Review: Rankin Inlet – Mara Feeney

2017: 56
4 of 5 stars
Published 2009

The author spent a number of years working in various areas of Canada’s Arctic region and territories and some of those years were spent in the village of Rankin Inlet, located on the northwest edge of Hudson Bay. She knows the region and the people well. Thus, this book feels very true.

The story is about Alison Clark, a Liverpudlian nurse who decided to travel to the Canadian north to work for a couple of years in Rankin Inlet and ended up staying for 30 years. The narrative comes from several points of view, not just Alison’s and through those, we learn quite a lot about Inuit culture, the history of how some of the Inuit came to live in these kinds of towns which were founded by companies like Hudson’s Bay Company and various mining and other companies. These towns were shored up and supported by the Canadian Government, a history that would seem to be a relatively common one to many of the Inuit settlements. We learn of their beliefs, spirituality, customs and challenges.

It’s a way of life that intrigues Alison as she settles in,  tries to learn the language, makes friends and even finds love. She marries and has a family and we see the town grow through the eyes of her, her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and one or two others on occasion. This tells the story from different points of view, where the culture clashes with her own background.  For non-Inuit who are not born and raised here, it is often difficult to survive in such an environment let alone thrive. The weather alone is forbidding and the isolation can be difficult but some really do thrive and come to love the land and it’s people as Alison does. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t manage it but it’s fascinating to read and become part of it for awhile.

As with many books that cover a spread of time, the first half of the book is more detailed, while the second half jumps through the years more quickly with catch up entries from the diaries, letters and thoughts of the characters as the north moves towards becoming a new territory, Nunvut, and the old ways fade away as the settlements become towns and even cities. This is progress. It may or may not be a good thing. Struggles to survive off the land may not be there anymore, but the corruption of progress can have devastating effects, too.

It’s interesting to see how some of the children in the family grow up and leave, embracing the modern world and some, while being used to the “modern conveniences” and technology, still look to their heritage to fulfill their lives and livelihoods.

It’s not a traditional happy ending or a sad one, there’s no real event to end the book. The books ends on a “circle of life” or “life goes on” kind of philosophy.

#8 of  #20BooksOfSummer

Cross Canada Reading Challenge: Nunavut

Review: Court of Lions – Jane Johnson

2017:55
4 of 5 stars
Published May 2017

This book runs along two timelines, the present and the late 15th century, both taking place in the Spanish city of Granada, home to the Moorish palace of Alhambra. The book is marketed as a cross between Ken Follett and Jodi Picoult. I like Follett’s books but not keen on Picoults but here goes, anyway.

In the present day, there’s Kate who has run away after a traumatic marriage to a controlling husband, living in Granada under an assumed name and working in a bar. She finds a small scrap of paper hidden in the old wall of the palace. It has a coded message on it and it dates from before the palace fell to Christian rule under Ferdinand and Isabella. I like that Kate is nearly 40, not nearly 20. It makes her more relateable for me. Her part of the story is a bit predictable, a new love interest and conflict with her violent, obsessed ex-husband who is determined to regain his control over her. Meanwhile, she’s investigating the past, but only just a small part of the storyline seems based on this. This will be the Picoult-like storyline.

In the past, there’s Blessings, companion to the young man who becomes the last Moorish Sultan, Abu Abdullah Mohammed. Blessings was brought from his tribe to be the companion to the young prince and they become inseparable as they grow up. He is devoted to his master and supports him through the dangerous years as the Moors fight the Christian Castilians and Aragonians. The historical detail is fantastic here and the author has some very interesting insight to add at the end of the book. This will be the Follett-like storyline (although Follett wrote a lot of spy thrillers, he also wrote one of my favourite ever books, Pillars of the Earth, a superb historical novel around the building of a medieval cathedral. There’s a sequel, but it’s more soapy and Picoultish. Still good, but not as good as Pillars which, if you like historical fiction, I highly recommend. But I digress.)

The book is about love, in both eras. Unrequited love, passion, loving or being involved with the wrong person, control, obsession. It’s about reconciling the past, your own or the historical past. Fighting for what you believe in. Fighting for your very survival. Most of the book is set in the past and for me, where I really like historical fiction, that was the best part. The present day plot wasn’t really developed enough to get invested in and the climax ended on a cliffhanger before another large segement of the historical storyline before you got back to finding out what actually happened. I wasn’t that keen on the ultimate resolution of the story, either but then, more plot  surrounding the present likely would have made a difference. Overall, though, for the historical story, very good.

Thanks to Doubleday and Goodreads for the copy for review.

Review: The Next Sure Thing – Richard Wagamese

2017:54
4 of 5 stars
Published September 2011

In this novella, Wagamese introduces us to Cree Thunderboy. Cree is a blues musician with big dreams. He also has a knack of being able to pick a good horse at the racetrack. This does not go unnoticed. He meets Win Hardy who hires him to make him money and in exchange, he’ll sponsor his music career. Such are Cree’s dreams that he’s initially willing to shove the alarms ringing in his and his best friend’s head into the cone of silence because he is ambitious and confident in his talent. It’s pretty clear soon enough that he’s signed a deal with the devil. Hardy is connected to all the wrong people and if Cree steps one foot out of place, he could lose that foot. Quite literally. He needs a plan to find Hardy’s achilles heel and bring Hardy down by using it against him. Cree is a gambler. This might not end well but if it pays off, he’ll be free of Hardy and he’ll live to see another day.

Short but sweet, this story is fast paced and fun. Gambling may be fun and a real rush when you win but when you lose, boy oh boy, you sure can lose everything and then some! Wagamese had a way of bringing his realistic characters leaping off the page. The story might be a bit silly, a bit like a “zany romp”, but if you’re a fan of Richard Wagamese’s work, you’ll enjoy it.

American Gods – Book to Television

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday – American Gods

Starz, a pay-for cable station in the U.S., has been making some really good series over the past few years. They’ve spent a lot of money on them and it shows in the casting and production. Several have been based on popular books including:

Pillars of the Earth based on Ken Follett’s novel (World Without End was the sequel to Pillars but was not produced by Starz)
Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s series, heading into season 3 (I can’t wait! I must blog about this one, too!)
The White Princess – Phillippa Gregory
American Gods based on Neil Gaiman’s novel

American Gods has recently just finished it’s first season on Starz. I read the book several years ago and though I don’t remember a great deal of detail, I do remember that I liked it but it was also one of those books where you feel like it’s doing your head in, as well. It’s filled with a lot of characters and there’s a lot of references to gods and mythology. The series is very good though there are quite a few differences from the book. A lot of it is extra detail added and more focus put on some characters that were only minor ones in the book. The first season is going to cover about a third of the book and, from what I’ve read, the second season will take a lot of material from the Lakeside storyline in the book. There’s also a sequel, called the Anansi Boys and there may be plans to work that in. If so, it’s likely the series go run for a few years. Gaiman is also writing a sequel but that won’t be out for a few years yet.

American Gods cast

The casting is superb with Ian McShane as the central character Wednesday aka Odin and the (rather lovely) Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. The real standouts for me have been Emily Browning as the undead Laura Moon (and also as Essie McGowan) and Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeny, the leprechaun. The rest of the cast is excellent as well and there are some very well known names.

The basic premise is the Old Gods of mythology have lost their power as people forget them and turn to new ones (technology, media etc). The Old Gods have come to America with various groups of people who brought their beliefs with them and we see a lot of the stories of those Gods’ arrival. Wednesday has decided to bring all the old Gods together to start a war with the new Gods in order to defeat them and bring back the power of the Old Ones and he enlists the help of Shadow Moon, a recently released convict whose wife has just died. Shadow is mainly his bodyguard and goes through much of the first season confused about what’s going on around him and having some very bizarre visions and dreams as well. Then there’s his wife. She comes back to life thanks to a magic coin from a leprechaun. She’s a walking dead sort of gal, though, with flies buzzing around her and later, maggots as she slowly starts to rot. The makeup here is fantastic, as she gets paler and grayer looking, with eyes slowly clouding over and dark circles under her eyes.

Gillian Anderson as the New God, Media – American Gods

There is a lot of violence and there is sexuality. It’s a series for grown ups and it’s smart and edgy. You aren’t spoon fed or hand held in this one. You’ve got to pay attention. Everything means something even if it isn’t always obvious. The differences to the book seem to be more enhancements. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in the world since then. Obviously, the Gods of Technology and Media are going to be updated, for example.

There’s a very good interview with Neil Gaiman here. I like what he has to say about his original vision for his work vs how it ends up translated to screen. “You try to push it towards the thing that you have in your head, but you know that not only do you never get there, you also know that the joy and the magic comes from seeing what other people have in their heads.” He also says that while the casting for some characters is vastly different than how he wrote them, they are doing such a superb job that if he were to write a sequel, those characters would sound a lot more like the versions that the actors brought to life.

Cloris Leachman in American Gods

Books to screen can be a very precarious tightrope. I think that a series is the better way to do it rather than a 2 or 3 hour movie. You have so much more scope for keeping in a lot more detail and it lends itself to enhancement as well (as long as it keeps within the spirit of the book). There are some things that just don’t translate from page to screen but if they do it well, the choices that they make will work just as well. I think, after watching this series, I might have to reread it before the second season comes out next year. American Gods is proving to be very popular and well received and we certainly give it thumbs up from our house.

Laura Moon and Mad Sweeny the leprechaun – American Gods

2017 Bingo Challenge – Completed!

bingoYay Me! I’ve completed my Reading Bingo Card!! (ed. no I haven’t, I have 2 more to read. I posted by mistake but I’ll leave it for now)

Now, having said that, this might not be the final version. I have a mind to change out the audio book at some point at the very least. The one I used is one that I think might have been very much abridged, not the full novel so I might get one from the library through Overdrive before the end of the year.

Am still working on the Cross Canada Reading Challenge and the 20 Books of Summer challenge but expect to be able to complete those on time. And at the moment, almost all of the authors but one are either Canadian born or are Canadian residents/citizens even if born elsewhere. They are considered Canadian writers. The only one that isn’t is the audio book, another reason to replace it. Still, it’s finished even if I don’t get round to doing that.

I did do a bit of shuffling around as per a suggestion from someone on Goodreads. Here then is the completed “card”:

B1 – A book from CBC 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian
Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather O’Neill  Reviewed

B2 – A Book from a Province/Territory You Want to Visit
The Jade Peony – Wayson Choy (British Columbia) Reviewed

B3 – Canadian Memoir
The Game – Ken Dryden – Finished and Reviewed

B4- A Banned Book
The Diviners – Margaret Lawrence  Reviewed

B5 – Canada Reads 2017
Company Town – Madeline Ashby   Reviewed (shortlist Canada Reads 2017)

I1 – Booked turned into a movie
The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton 2016 TIFF  Reviewed

I2 – Written by an Indigenous Author
The Break – Katherena Vermette – Reviewed 

I3 – YA
100 YA books (CBC)
BayGirl – Heather Smith  Reviewed

I4 – Written by LGBTQ author
Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue – Reviewed

I5 – sci-fi/dystopia/apocolyptic novel
Nostalgia – M. G. Vassanji – Reviewed

N1 – past long or shortlist Canada Reads novel
Canada Reads previous winners
Rockbound – Frank Parker Day (Canada Reads 2005 winner) Reviewed

N2 – Non-Fiction
Shag Harbour Incident – Graham Simms  Reviewed

N3 – Your Favourite Canadian Novel
Planned: Fall On Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald

N4 – Audio book
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whithead  Reviewed (but I might re-fill this at some point)

N5- Giller Prize short-list/longlist or winner
Scotiabank Giller Prize past winners
The Best Kind of People – Zoe Whittall   Reviewed

G1 – Canadian Mystery
Gold Fever – Vicki Delaney Reviewed

G2 – Book about someone immigrating to Canada
The Piano Maker – Kurt Palka  Reviewed

G3 – Book Published in 2017
The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill   Reviewed (published Feb. 2017)

G4 – Translated novel
Ru – Kim Thuy  Reviewed (Canada Reads 2015 winner)

G5 – Book written in your province/territory/city/state (or country if not in Can)
Ava Comes Home – Lesley Crewe  Reviewed

O1 -Canadian novel published the year you were born (1959)
Planned: The Watch That Ends the Night – Hugh McLennan

O2 – A book outside your comfort zone
Fifteen Dogs – Andre Alexis  Reviewed (Canada Reads 2017)

O3 – A Book of poetry
Runaway Dreams – Richard Wagamese  Reviewed

O4 – A Canadian Classic
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood  Reviewed

O5 – A Book from the CBC 100 True Stories that make you proud to be Canadian
Stalin’s Daughter – Rosemary Sullivan   Reviewed

Review: The Jade Peony – Wayson Choy

2017: 53
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 1995

This is one Chinese immigrant family’s experience in Vancouver during the late 1930s and into the 1940s during WWII. The three youngest children of the family alternate points of view in the first person aging from about 6 to 10 in their individual sections. The oldest of the three is Jung who is adopted by the family. Liang, the only daughter was born in Canada as was Sekky, the youngest boy. The story chronicles their struggles to juggle the old ways that their parents and elderly Grandmother espouse and the new, modern ways of English Canada.

Fitting in isn’t always easy and each of the three has their challenges. As the only girl, Liang often is made to feel less worthy than the favoured boys, especially by her grandmother. She dreams of following in Shirley Temple’s tap shoes and wants to be a modern girl. Jung is haunted by a traumatic childhood, before he was adopted. He finds boxing is the way to fit in for him and then realizes he’s attracted to entirely the wrong person. Sekky, born in Canada and sickly as a small child, is later entranced by the War and he and his friends play war games all the time but  the realities of the consequences of this war are a bit more profound than anyone expected.

All of the characters are written very well. It’s interesting to read about the immigrant experience, and a little sad, too since at that time, the Chinese were not considered good enough to be in mainstream society, marginalized and isolated. The older generation clings to the traditional “Old China” ways while the new, (mostly) Canadian born generation leans into the modern world. They change their names, they dare to dream to find their place in Canadian culture and society. The grandmother spends most of her attention on the youngest boy, Sekky, who is sickly and they become very close. It’s not surprising then, that amidst all the traditional stories about ghosts and spirits that he’s the one that can see her after she dies.

The racism that the Chinese have for the Japanese is highlighted when the war begins and the neighbours are following the Japanese attacks on their homeland overseas. Sekky’s war games are always about beating the Nazis and the Japanese. He is fervent about his “enemies” until he’s shocked when he discovers that his babysitter’s boyfriend is Japanese. Liang’s section, the first one, is shorter than the others and revolves around her relationship with an older family friend who treats her with respect, something she doesn’t get a lot of from her grandmother who is the driving force behind the family.

I did find that once each of the first two sections was finished, we really didn’t hear much more about those two children, other than in the perifery of Sekky’s world and it felt like things were left hanging. Even Sekky’s section, which I did enjoy, ended in a tragedy and there wasn’t more than that. There is now a sequel about the oldest brother, which I may seek out at some point. This is a debut novel and it wasn’t bad. The writing and the world and their family through the eyes of the children was well thought out and depicted. The book is fairly short and I think it could have used a bit more to tie it all together at times.

 

#20BooksOfSummerChallenge 

Cross Canada Reading Challenge – British Columbia

Bingo Challenge entry (B2 – a province you’d like to visit)

Review: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

2017:51
4 of 5 stars
Published April 1997

This takes place at the southern part of India and is about the family of fraternal twins Estha and Rahel (brother and sister). The family members include multiple generations, both colourful and tragic. It is told in two timelines, from the adult twins and looking back to 1969 when their uncle’s English ex-wife and his daughter come home to India after the death of the ex’s second husband. The family is very much looking forward to the arrival, especially of the daughter, Sophie Mol. Then something happens and all of their lives are turned around.

I found the book hard to get into at first but after the first chapter, it settled down and made more sense. The twins’ family was contentious, with an alcoholic and abusive father. Their mother, Ammu, took her children and left him, returning home to her family to face their disapproval (for the divorce) from there on. Her parents, Mammachi and Pappachi and brother Chacko  lived in the family home along with Baby Kochamma, who was the sister of Mammachi, she’s referred to as a grandaunt. (great aunt?) She is an especially nasty piece of work due to her own personal unhappiness with her own life, and is really awful and vindictive towards ammu. Sophie Mol is known early on in the book to have died but it’s not revealed how until late in the book.

The story hook is “Things can change in a day” and they do, more than once.  The story is told mainly from the twins’ point of view, twins that are very close to each other, almost to the exclusion of anyone else and they are the only ones that can help each other. The language is lovely and liquid with interesting two-words-together descriptions and the children are often referred to as “two-egg twins”. The descriptions are very beautiful but at times, I felt went on and on a bit much. How many different descriptive ways can one describe a garden as someone is walking through it? Several pages of it on my eReader. Get on with the story! But the story is compelling, more and more so as you get further into it.

This book won the Booker Prize in 1997.