SPRING has sprung – and this WORDPRESS blog has suffered some NEGLECT…
it would even seem that I have not been reading but, that’s NOT TRUE!
Here are a few book titles for the moment – and reviews to follow –
For the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki ***
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert *** HAVE READ
The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd ***
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie READING
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Lives of Girls and Women – Alice Munro TO BE READ
The Vorrh – B. Catling – Alan Moore
BC/F **1/2 “The Shadow of the Wind”, by Carlos Ruíz Zafón.
A complex read…compelling…taking place in Barcelona during the time of Franco and the Civil War in Spain…a coming of age story set in the streets of this ancient city and told in the voice of a Spanish storyteller. Zafón brings texture and complexity to his tale by weaving the lives of his characters into the fabric of 1930’s Barcelona, and a Spain that is caught-up in a web of political intrigue, civil war resulting in a repressive dictatorship, intolerant of any other ideologies but Franco’s, who was a Conservative Catholic.
The protagonist, Daniel searches for the author of a book that is bequeathed to him in a unique form of initiation into the world of readers and thinkers. Along the way, he discovers himself, falls in and out of love, and becomes inadvertently the shadow of the author he searches for as their lives intersect and then parallel each other in the most entertaining ways.
This is a skillfully written book, the writing is very descriptive and the author ties all the threads together in the last few chapters, summarizing for the reader events that might have gotten buried as the story got swept along in the sights and sounds of what Barcelona was like in the day. If you have been to Barcelona, you will understand how the author uses the old city to create for the reader the ‘fantastical’ quality to the tale, that swirls around like mists and dampness, dark alleyways and narrow cobbled streets. Carlos Ruíz Zafón achieves the effect that Spanish artists, writers and poets are famous for; the surreal.
Winter is here, time to read and cozy up to the fire! Here is what I have just read.
BC/HF **1/2 “THE ORENDA”, by Joseph Boyden…a long cathartic tale of the struggle of North American First nations to successfully trade for guns and iron with the white man,whilst staving off the dreaded influences of the first Jesuit priests to reach Nouvelle France. Boyden’s uncanny ability to dredge up the nightmares of my early days of being brought up in a French Catholic School, include long passages dealing with cold winters, hostile encounters between neighboring tribes, and endless paragraphs of the kind of torture both priests and enemies endured. It still makes me shiver to remember the tales we were fed as children about the priests that came to the New World to tame ‘les sauvages’. Boyden weaves a nightmarish tale of what it was like to inhabit the world of the Huron people, and what it felt like to be on constant watch for their enemy, the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois. Replete with tribal culture, the history of La Nouvelle France, and the arrival of the Jesuits, Boyden seems to be on a mission to discover and uncover his native roots and remember the time he spent with his family up in Georgian Bay, on Lake Huron. The story was compelling, but I tended to skip over the ‘torture’ parts, and the parts where the jesuits were bent on conversion. The character sketches of his main characters were compelling enough…a good read, albeit a tad long and repetitive in parts.
F **1/2 ‘THE PARIS ARCHITECT’, by Charles Belfoure Set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, a well-established but out-of-work architect is approached by a wealthy French industrialist to help design ‘hiding places’ for prominent and wealthy Jews who were unable to get out of France before the Germans began their eradication campaign of French and Eastern European Jews. Lucien Bernard becomes wound up in his struggle to maintain his lifestyle in Paris, including keeping his mistress happy, by building munitions factories for the Germans. In his lust for money and comforts, he also commits himself to working for the gentile industrialist who risks his life to safe-keep Jews and therefore Bernard finds himself walking a fine tightrope between the Gestapo and the Parisians who are only too willing to turn over Jewish folk in order to escape punishment or perhaps to even garner favor. The writing is not superlative, and the ending is a little too abrupt. Nevertheless, we do get engrossed in Bernard’s transformation from a money grubbing philanderer who has little empathy for the plight of the Jews, to a man who finds his inner substance by helping to save lives at the risk of his own. If you don’t want to read about the holocaust, then this is not for you but the story does talk about the age of ‘modern architecture’ and shows how a common passion can help to forge an unlikely bond between two people. After much suspense, the book does have a happy ending!
CURL UP AROUND THE FIRE AND GET OUT YOUR BOOKS, READERS or iPADS BECAUSE THE HOURS OF DARKNESS APPROACH (Unless you are heading ‘down under’, where everything is lightening up!)
OH oh! Summer is gone and October is coming to an end…and choosing books is as difficult as ever. The writer’s festival is on and Canadian writers are being honored. Of special note, Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature and she deserves it.
Book club is still up and running and we’ve had some “INTERESTING” books. Besides the STAR *** ratings the type of book is identified by the following:
BC = book club, F = fiction, NF = Non-fiction, HNF = Historical non-fiction, B = biographical,
AB = autobiographical
Here are more books to ADD to the list with a ‘rating’ and a few comments.
NF *** The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese” by Michael Paterniti Non-fiction that reads like a novel…this delightful tale is so well crafted if not (by the end) a tad too long written by a true wordsmith – combination journalist, travel writer, historian, adventurer. The Telling Room takes place in Spain for the most part, in a small village called Guzman and its surrounding villages and countryside, in Castile y Léon. The author writes of his search for the maker of the supposed ‘world’s greatest cheese’ Páramo de Guzmán, and finds himself caught up in the spell of Ambrosio Molinas de las Heras, the cheese maker and storyteller of Guzmán. An enchanting, well-written, well-researched book, it deals with the culture, language, food and wine of this area of Spain, and Paterniti, who is a master storyteller himself, makes the characters, their families and their animals, their loves, hates and petty jealousies jump off the pages. The best part? It’s truer than fiction…a great read, with times of unbridled laughter and delight. The book was somewhat repetitious towards the end, which was slightly annoying, but in some ways it was crafted as a good essay is, finishing with a short ‘summary’ of what was discussed throughout the book and this could be forgiven as the writing is quite excellent. Enjoy! ______________________________________________________
F/BC ** “The Interestings: A Novel”, by Meg Wolitzer is a tale of group friendship that lasts through adolescence into adulthood. 6 friends who meet at a ‘teen’ camp develop lasting friendships and the author follows them through their various careers, marriages, successes and failures. Skilled at character development, Wolitzer draws us into their lives and shows how they manage to stay connected over time…the writing is very good, the character development compelling, if the actual ‘story’ is not. I sometimes thought to myself, “when is she going to get to the point”, but you realize that the characters and their ongoing relationship with each other is the point…
F/BC **1/2 “The Yellow Birds: A Novel”, by Kevin Power – the story takes place in Iraq and in the US, and is written by a veteran of the war who describes what it was like for him and his best buddy to live in a war zone and work every minute to stay alive. The story shuffles back between the past and present, between the US and Iraq, recounting the harrowing hardships of day to day life in great detail and how living without trusting anyone takes a toll on their lives. Good read, hard in parts as it is quite graphic, but on the whole, gets us inside the head of a VERY young man in a strange and dangerous land who must endure physical and mental hardship in order to survive.
NF ** 1/2 “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed – the memoir of a young woman who having encountered hard times in her life, decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert to Washington State. If you like living vicariously through the adventures of others, then this will entertain you…it is particularly poignant for any of you who have walked any great distances and have dealt with hardship on the physical, mental and spiritual levels…well-written, funny, sad and intense, Strayed has you feeling hot, cold, dirty, hungry, and scared and often thankful for the small, unexpected goodness one can experience when life is pared down to a good pair of boots, a backpack and the most unlikely fellow travelers. A good book to read when you are travelling! TIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIMETIME WHERE IS THE TIME GOING? – I have been reading so much this summer I haven’t had time to enter reviews or ratings for the books I’ve finished…here’s a quick list before I jump on a ferry to visit friends on the big island! NO, not Hawaii, but Vancouver! Currently reading –
NF ** – The Girl with No Name: The True Story of a Girl who Lived with the Monkeys – Marina Chapman (about a child abduction, her living with monkeys, then resurfacing into mainstream life in Columbia. Story certainly compelling while the writing is not.
Gillian Flynn murder mysteries – this is a new genre for me. Have now read all three of her novels starting with GONE GIRL
**(book Club Pick) and then wanting more but totally saturated by book three. Gone Girl, Sharp Objects, Dark Places...the most interesting and quirky was probably Gone Girl, most disturbing, Sharp Objects, more of the same and not that believable, Dark Places…still! If you want a quick summer page turning read, then I would recommend these books, but they are dark, violent, portray the worst of human nature and are quite graphic…Flynn doesn’t hold much back…a female Styg Larsen! I will probably read something about the Danes and Denmark on my upcoming Scandinavian trip. Any recommendations? Happy reading!
June Book Club pick
F **1/2 “HAND ME DOWN WORLD”, by Lloyd Jones (Mr. Pip) “A novel about a mother’s search for her stolen child. A novel you can’t stop thinking about.” OK, we will see!
F ** “…AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED”, by Khaled Hosseini (of Kite Runner fame) (almost half way through!) (my book ratings*** are described further down in the post!) BOOK CLUBS…are a wonderful thing. As I sit working on this webpage, I listen to my husband entertaining his book club buddies who are discussing their latest pick, “American Pastoral”, by Phillip Roth…the discussion whetted with a few beers and a selection of designer pizzas…tonight for a change they are having sushi. Spouses, dogs, children and any non book club members are requested to stay away…there have been numerous strategies used to respect the ‘banishment’ theme over the years: hide out at a friend’s, have supper OUT with the kids, go to a movie…or stay holed up in my office working on some project or other and MAYBE lucky enough to have a slice of pizza or maki roll left over…methinks I will be eating a bowl of granola tonight after everyone leaves because there is never any sushi left over! Book Clubs can come in various shapes and sizes…I belong to an all women book club, while Tony belongs to an all men group…friends of ours belong to a mixed group…not necessarily of spouses either. Whatever combination you choose the essential requirement should be ‘TO FINISH THE BOOK’ so the discussion can have as much input as possible. However, busy lives, and LIFE in general, can come in the way of actually finishing the book club book of the month.
BOOKS WORTH READING………………………………………………… In order to make things easy, I will rate the books I’ve read with *stars*. 0*= back to the drawing board. 1* = readable, but not great. 2** = good read, entertaining, might recommend,
** 1/2, really good read, for the most part, perhaps a weak ending, but a page turner. 3*** = great, and would highly recommend.
Some of the books I have read in the last year…
NF/B *** “The Hare with the Amber Eyes”, by Edmund de Waal is a brilliant memoir written by de Waal about his family, the Ephrussi, a wealthy Jewish Banking family in Europe, during the Nazi takeover and how they lost their priceless art collections but for 264 small hand carved Japanese Netsuke which were hidden away by one of their beloved house staff. De Waal weaves an intricate story of a powerful family whose wealth was stripped from them, and describes the lives of some of the more interesting and significant family members who ended up in some of the most unlikely places after the war. The author, an artist himself, expertly describes the art, architecture, and culture in Vienna and Europe during wartime, along with the hardships suffered by this amazing family. De Waal’s quest for the facts surrounding his family’s history and survival and their whereabouts after the war are very well researched and recounted. One of my favorite reads in a long time. Highly recommended.
HNF *** “INTO THE SILENCE: THE GREAT WAR, MALLORY AND THE CONQUEST OF EVEREST”, by Wade Davis (not for everyone – Wade Davis writes in a highly graphic, blood and guts way in this story of War, exploration, adventure and self-sacrifice). ‘Into the Silence’ is an historical, biographical and adventuresome tale of the First World War, and some of the amazing men involved in it, who subsequently involve themselves in the conquering of Everest. Wade Davis is a fabulous writer, does HUGE (almost too much) amounts of research on his subjects, and writes in an extremely descriptive fashion, bringing alive the events of the day. More specifically the books focuses on Mallory who might indeed be the first person to reach the summit of Everest, but who loses his life in doing so. With any Wade Davis book, you are guaranteed to learn a lot!
F *** “The 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED”, by Jonas Jonasson A story about the long and eventful life of Allan Karlsson who towards the end of his life escapes the mundane life in a nursing home and meets up with an unlikely set of circumstances and unruly characters, all the while unveiling the adventuresome story of his life as one of the people responsible for creating the ‘atom bomb’. An unusual unfolding of world events over his 100 year life and his meeting with many of the most famous leaders on the world stage at the time…highly entertaining, with an interesting historical perspective…an ‘unserious’ take on serious world events. A very good journey!
F **1/2 “THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH“, Ken Follett – “a twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral” – and a very down to earth and LENGTHY story about an ambitious prior and an equally ambitious stonemason who collaborate to build the Cathedral, despite the evildoers who would stop them…Follett has you right down in the dirt or hanging from the gallows in this tale of intense competition between the nobles and the peasants for land, trade, wealth and power…rather ‘bawdy’ but those were ribald times…not an intellectual read, and the parts that intrigued me most were the descriptions of the building of the Cathedral, and all the terms for the parts of the church. I found it most useful to have a ‘visual dictionary’ beside me which labelled the parts of the Cathedral, e.g. chancery, transepts, clerestory, aisles and all the different styles of vaulting etc. Not a ‘brilliant’ read, but entertaining and compelling. By the end of it, I was glad not to be a citizen of those times.
F **1/2 “THE BOOK THIEF”, by Markus Zusak Strangely crafted book, the author draws us into his quirky style of writing over time. Not easy to get into to start but, it is our book club book, and if at first you don’t feel that a book is compelling enough, you really mustn’t decide to put it down and leave it for a rainy day. Being part of ‘book club’ is a good deterrent to abandoning books mid-read… often perseverance pays off. I’m 80% through the book, and it seems that there are many competing forces tugging at me for my reading time, so often I am relegated to reading at night, which is deadly, as night is now a cue for sleep. One or two minutes of ‘reading in bed’ and the eyes flutter, close, shut! Time in the Bowen Island ferry lineup is proving fruitful! This is the story of a young girl who is adopted into a German family during WW2, in Germany, and describes what it was like growing up with a foster family who don’t choose to adhere to the rules of the brutal Nazi regime, and who, because of a debt owed, end up hiding a Jew in their home. To tell you more at this point would spoil the story, but suffice it to say it does have you feeling stressed about whether their ‘secret’ will be found out. I have finally finished this book…suffice it to say it was not a hugely compelling book, initially and I asked myself WHY? Was it the writing style, was it the manner in which the author unveiled the story? Was it my mood – in conjunction with certain life events and how that often affects the reader’s take on things? Told in the voice of ‘the grim reaper’, the story is not warm or comforting, contains little consolation, (I got caught up in the ugliness of the swear words SAUMENSCH and SAUKERL repeated over and over, even though they seemed to end up as endearments!). The story is mostly bare bones, sharp corners, cold, palpable hunger…the odd stories that Max, the hideaway, constructs perhaps reflect the rawness, the distorted circumstances he lived in, the unbearable conditions for a people who were so vilified and hunted down…I guess that Zusak achieved what he wanted – to leave us feeling fearful, hungry, exhausted, yet able to receive sustenance from the smallest scrap of bread, the simplest of human interactions and gestures, glimmers of pleasure and hope that reading books can bring to people so devoid of even the simplest comforts…it took me awhile to remember that ‘death’ was narrating – and though I found it hard to take at times, imagining that death had a voice, in the end, the visions Zusak unearths are hauntingly beautiful. I believe it is a worthwhile read, and somehow there is a little scrape-through of blue underneath layers of dust, grit and grime. If you are weary of holocaust tales, this is not for you. If you want to experience a glimpse of humanity and how people emerge into the light despite being buried alive, then start turning the pages – BUT perhaps gauge your mood first. This is perhaps best savored as a wintertime read…it is not a light summer read.