Monday, 30 January 2017

Fredrik Backman

Fredrik Backman has become extremely popular with many readers.
On a recent trip to Chapters, one of the staff spoke very highly of this author.
I had read "A Man Called Ove" and wasn't impressed, but thought I should give Fredrik Backman a closer look.
He lives in Stockholm, where his books are all number one bestsellers.  His books have been translated into 35 languages! Wow!  He is a popular writer.  
I have written a review here about "A Man Called Ove".

Well, I decided to try this one.  It seems to have two titles- perhaps because it is translated so often.   The other title is: "My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry".
The story is about Granny who reads "quality literature" and relates everything to fairy tales.  Her granddaughter is Elsa, a very precocious 7-year-old.
Page 42: "Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild's ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.  Even when you are wrong.  Especially then, in fact."
  I didn't read much further than this because there were descriptions of nearly everyone that lived in their apartment complex.
  Granny is 'unusual' for sure.  And I think that is the appeal of this book.  Not for me.

   Well, here is another unusual character- Britt-Marie.  She is 63 years old and is another 'strange' character.  I felt at first that she was autistic.  She is definitely OCD and socially inappropriate.
  I thought of "The Rosie Project", where the protagonist had Asperger's.  Ron Tillman was certainly more interesting.  I wasn't 'over the moon' about that book either, but I did like it better than this one.  Britt-Marie is just plain rude.  

  This is a very short novella about a boy and his grandfather.  It is popular and took awhile to get a copy from the library.  It is the author's attempt to deal with  the loss of loved ones.
Quote: "Noah holds the old man's hand, the man who  taught him to fish and to never be afraid of big thoughts and to look at the night's sky and understand that it's made of numbers.  Mathematics has blessed the boy in that sense, because he's no longer afraid of the thing almost everyone else is terrified of: infinity."
Poignant.  Short and sentimental.  Snatches of thought.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Cutting for Stone

   I read this book in 2009 and really enjoyed it.   Basically it is a novel about a nun who has twin boys.  I enjoyed the story of the boys growing up in Ethiopia, both becoming doctors.
  On second reading, I was frustrated.  It took over 100 pages to get through the story of the birth.  I knew that there was a more interesting story to come, but it was taking too long to get there.

   This author, Abraham Verghese, fascinates me.  He is a 
doctor who has been awarded the National Humanities Medal in the U.S.  His specialty is empathy and healing.
   He has done some TED talks and is most fascinating.  He has coined the term "ipatient", in other words, the virtual patient that is in the computer.  It seems that most doctors spend more time with the information on the computer than with the patient.   Verghese strongly believes that physical examinations are more important than the computer record.  Also, the patient feels more cared for with this personal touch.  Verghese talks about 'healing' rather than 'curing'.

  It took Verghese eight years to write this book- his first fiction.   
  The novel was on the New York Times bestseller's list for 2 years and is now on Amazon's list of 100 books to read in a lifetime.
  It may be a great novel but it will not be on my list of 'best books'.  The plot is buried in so much description- much of it medical. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

"Fifteen Dogs" by Andre Alexis

    Here is another book on the Canada Reads longlist.  It is not science fiction, but it is unusual.  It is called an apologue.
Apologue- definition: a moral fable, especially one with animals as characters.
  Yes, this book is about dogs licking, peeing, mounting and fighting.  Does that sound like an award winner?
   Well, it was published in 2015 and won the Giller Prize and the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in that year.
  It is the second book in a series of five that the author feels is "examining faith, place, love, power and hatred".
   Fifteen dogs are given the gift of human consciousness and language by the gods Hermes and Apollo.  Apollo thought that they would be more unhappy than humans if they had human intelligence.  The gods make a bet about whether the dogs will be happier at their death.  The dogs die one by one- mostly killed by the other dogs in the pack.  The gods also interfere in the lives of the last two dogs.
  I have no idea about this book.  I have read revue after revue praising it, but I saw absolutely no value in the whole book- just dogs licking, peeing, mounting and fighting.

Friday, 20 January 2017

"Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel

   This is Sylvain Neuvel.  He dropped out of school at 15.  But this young man is obviously not what you might expect from a high school dropout.
   Listen to what he says about himself, "My main interests are word-based morphology, computational morphology, as well as formal and lexical semantics and most of my work focuses on a formal characterization of polysynthesis, compounding and agglutination in word-based morphological terms."
   Yes, this man has amassed quite an education in spite of his disinterest in high school- in fact, he is now in his forties. He is the director of translation services and a software engineer for a Montreal company, but his personal interest is in robotics and science fiction.
  Neuvel interests me as well as his novel "Sleeping Giants".  You can tell from the first page that this is not your regular author.  He has an extremely creative mind.  This story is told through interviews, newspaper headlines, and journal entries.
  It begins with a young girl falling into a large hole in the ground and landing on a 20-foot long mechanical hand.  Oh, yes, and there was a  bright light emanating from it.
  The novel has a lot of intrique and I have read that it is being made into a movie.  I think it will equal 'Jurassic Park" in action and excitement.  The author plans to continue the story in two more books.
P.S. This is another book from the Canada Reads longlist.  I'm whipping through the science fiction.

Monday, 16 January 2017

"Nostalgia" by M.G.Vassanji

Here's an author that I recognize.  I have read "The In-Between World of Vikram Lall".  I found Vassanji's writing enjoyable- great description. And so, I tackled this science fiction book that is also on the Canada Reads longlist.

Vassanji lives in Toronto and speaks in the area often.  He has won the Giller Prize twice as well as many more prizes.
He really is a good author, but this book made no sense to me. Perhaps this is his first book in this genre.

   The theme of "Nostalgia" is immortality.  After a lifetime, you are given a new "fiction" and become a GN (new-generation person).
   I have a million questions that were never answered.  It appears that you get a new body as well as a new fiction- or memory.  All memories from that past life are erased.
   The protagonist is a doctor that makes sure that the past doesn't leak into the present.  This is what happened with one of his patients and the doctor becomes very involved in his life until you realize that he had been related to this man in a previous life.
  I didn't enjoy the writing and didn't understand the concept.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Just City

   I decided to check out some of the books in the Canada Read's longlist.
   There are several science fiction novels on the list, so I decided to start reading a few of them.  I thought I would start with the most bizarre (although science fiction itself is a little bizarre for me).

   "The Just City" is about an experiment to set up Plato's "Republic".  In other words, to set up a city based on "justice".
   Plato died in 437 BC.  Socrates was his teacher. Although Plato is not in this novel, Socrates surely is.  In fact, he is the person that actually ruins the experiment and convinces people that it is not really a 'just city'- that people do not have free will and volition.
The novel is based on Greek mythology - even Apollo is here.  He decided to be born into a mortal life. People were brought to this city (on an island) from all over the world and from all time periods.  
  The mating procedure is strange.  People are matched for a day and expected to procreate.  Then have no sexual contact for another 6 months.  The city is more just because you don't have one lover or one baby of your own.  You care for everyone.  In fact, you never know which child belongs to you.  Excellence is the aim.
  The belief is that justice is more important than happiness or liberty or anything else.
 There are robots that Socrates discovers can think and respond.  There are many long philosophical discussions around Socrates and volition is one important topic.
Well-written but way 'out there'.

This is Jo Walton, the author. She was born in Wales in 1964.  She is a poet and an author.  She has been writing since she was 13, but her first novel was not published until 2000.
She has won many science fiction awards.  She now lives in Montreal.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Canada Reads 2017

"What is the one book Canadians need now?"  That is the question.
The longlist has been announced and the final five books as well as the list of panelists will be announced on January 31.

Here is the longlist:
1. "The Break" by Katherena Vermette
2. "Company Town" by Madeline Ashby
3. "The Elephants in My Backyard" by Rajiv Surendra
4. "Even This page is White" by Vivek Shraya
5. "Fifteen Dogs" by Andre Alexis
6.  "I Am Woman" by Lee Maracle
7.  "The Just City" by Jo Walton
8. "Knucklehead" by Matt Lennox
9. "Nostalgia" by M.G. Vassanji
10. "One Hour in Paris" by Karyn L. Freedman
11. "Quantum Night" by Robert J. Sawyer
12. "The Right To Be Cold" by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
13. "Sleeping Giants" by Sylvain Neuvel
14. "Today I learned It Was You" by Edward Riche
15. "Waiting for First Light" by Romeo Dallaire
Ali Hassan 

  The Canada Reads website tells us that "The five panelists will take stock of where the nation stands today, explore its diverse perspectives and reflect on where we are heading."
 Their books will be chosen from this longlist.

The host this year will be Ali Hassan from CBC's "Laugh Out Loud".

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Seven Sisters

   This book has a very intriguing introduction.  Pa Salt, a multimillionaire, adopted 6 girls from around the world.   
  They were mostly raised by a very loving housekeeper.  Their life was idyllic, as Pa Salt encouraged each girl to follow her dreams and interests in life. So they were all well-established in life when Pa Salt suddenly died, with none of the girls nearby.  His instructions were followed and he was immediately buried at sea from his yacht.  The girls, surprisingly, knew nothing about their father's business or his life in general.  
armillary sphere
  When the girls arrived at Pa Salt's house after his death, they were each given a letter and shown an armillary sphere (used in astronomy)  that was specially made with one band for each girl, showing the coordinates of her birthplace.

   And so, the author has chosen to write a series of books as each daughter searches for her heritage.
   The author has done much research and included fascinating information on each birthplace.  This first book follows Maia's search for her heritage and she ends up in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, where she discovers an interesting love story involving her great grandmother and meets her grandmother on her deathbed.
  Maia falls in love with an author, Floriano, whose books she has translated.
  But....the book ends with the beginning of Alley's story.  She is in the family home, picks up the telephone to make a call and.....
"Holding the receiver to my ear as I made to dial the number, I realized someone else in the house was already on the line.  The shock of hearing the familiar, resonant tones of the voice that had comforted me from childhood forced me to interrupt the conversation.  "Hello?"  I said, hurriedly reaching over and turning the CD player down to make absolutely sure it was him.  But the voice at the other end had become a monotonous bleeping, and I knew he had gone".....
   MYSTERY!  Is Pa Salt still alive??????

Lucinda Riley
   Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland.  She was an actress in film, theatre and television.  Then she began writing.  She had written 7 books when she got the inspiration for this series of books, based on the constellation "Pleiades"- the Seven Sisters.
   Lucinda now divides her time between England and Ireland with her husband and four children.

This series of books will include 7 books and the mystery that was set up at the beginning of the first book will not be divulged until the last book.
Already written:
Book 1: The Seven Sisters
Book 2: The Storm Sister
Book 3: The Shadow Sister
So it will be four years before we get to know the mystery of Pa Salt.  In the meantime, there is a lot of reading to be done.  These books are long- but interesting!

Monday, 2 January 2017


Statistics for 2016
   Since I retired I have read between 60 and 75 books a year.  In 2016, I read 63 books, ending the year with "The Scarlet Pimpernel".
  I quite enjoyed this book about the French Revolution, when the starving French peasants overthrew the monarchy.
  The Scarlet Pimpernel, an Englishman, enlisted 19 other men to aid him in rescuing innocent Frenchmen from the guillotine. 
   Even his wife did not know his identity, and unknowingly put his life at risk.  But that Scarlet Pimpernel was crafty!  His exploits were fun to read.

   The writing is marvellous, although overly sentimental at times. Great description of the times- clothing, landscape, lifestyles.  Very interesting!
   The author was Emma Orczy (1865-1947).  She lived in Hungary, then Brussels, then Paris and finally London.