Review: Seven Days of Us – Francesca Hornak

2018: 13
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

The Birch family are going to be spending Christmas at the country house in Norfolk, all of them together for the first time in years but it may be too much of a good think. You see,they are quarantined for 7 days when their daughter, Olivia, returns after several months on a medical team treating an insidious virus in Africa. Olivia seems to be a bit cut off from her family, having her own life but she’s looking forward to her future. Her younger sister, Phoebe has finally become engaged to George so her world is looking up, too. Andrew has discovered he has a son but hasn’t told anyone,not even his wife, Emma, who also has a secret that she’s keeping. There, then. It’s got my interest and attention.

The long lost son shows up, anxious to meet his family and he’s thrown into the mix and he really is the cat dumped in among the pigeons as they all get used to each other. The secrets all dribble out, one by one like little pop explosions. Are they going to blow the family apart or make them stronger?

This is a debut novel and just the style I do enjoy. I’d love to read another book about this family. I enjoyed all the characters. The setting could have been any old manor house in rural England set near a village. I wanted to know more about the family members and hear more about their stories  and I thought it was a nice, light read. Slightly predictable? Yes but these types of books usually do have happy endings. It’s why I read them.

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Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

2018:12
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

This debut novel will keep you thinking long after you turn that last page. Set at the end of the 21st century, America is in the depths of a second Civil War fought over fossil fuel that the North wanted outlawed and the Southern section refused to give up.  The map of the country as it’s known today looks very different as most of the coastal areas are under water. Extreme weather still takes its toll on the country.  There are unmanned but armed drones that dot the skies, raining explosives down.  There are soldiers that come, night or day.  At the end of the war, there was then a terrible plague that swept the country. War is hell. We know all this at the start of the book. The rest of the book fills in the blanks, told by the nephew of the protagonist as he looks back on his own life and the woman that influenced him and saved his life.

Sounds grim. It’s gonna get grimmer. Sarat is a child at the beginning of the book. She and her mother, brother and twin sister are taken to a refugee camp when her father is killed. From here, we get an insight as to what life is like for ordinary people during wartime. As Sarat gets older, we see the effects of living to survive has on her and her family. Sarat is recruited to the Southern (Red) manifesto, having continually lost people she loves. It takes a toll on a child and she is easily turned into a hard core revel who takes on the North faction (Blue) as she is instructed. If this were an action movie, it would involve high leg kicking, num chucks and lots of explosions but it is more underhanded and nefarious than that. We watch Sarat through her life, her determination, her obsession, her willpower and her single minded beliefs. Her fate is inevitable.

The book is very well written but while not a pleasant read, it’s a very good one just the same. It’s bleak but it’s also somewhat believable that the near-ish future could come to that point so it has that touch of reality to it. There are a number of topics that were not brought into the story but that probably would have made the book too long and would distract the reader from what the author wanted to say, a warning that within 50 years, this could be the way it is, or similar.

This is one of the books shortlisted for the Canada Reads competition at the end of March.

Too Much To Read

One half of the TBR stack

Over the many years that I’ve been reading, now and then I get a restless feeling. I wander around the house aimlessly. I try to concentrate on the television. I know what’s wrong but I Hate to spend that money. I know I’ll give in eventually (twist my rubber arm, why don’t you?). I have nothing to read! That means either a bookstore visit where the staff all run outside to greet me warmly or a trip to the library. They know me there, too.

My parents were readers and both of them would trade books with relatives and friends and they read to us all the time as we grew up. Thanks for that. I mean it. I can’t imagine life without reading. In fact, I’ve always been one to have more than one book on the go at any given time, one or two fictions and a non-fiction that I can pick up and put down when I’m in the mood for it. Now that I’ve more or less gone digital, I juggle four books on a regular basis. One of those is often a real paper book which I’ll read in bed at night. Sometimes the stack of paper books by the bed may contain two or three books depending on whether someone has lent me one or I’ve come across one I wanted on sale.

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve set up my library card to be able to take advantage of borrowing ebooks through the Overdrive app (or the Libby app, just test driving that one now). I browse the virtual stacks for books that have been reccommended via CanadianContent on Goodreads or on best seller lists and place them on a wishlist or put a hold on them. I’ve joined Netgalley where you can also read upcoming releases for free if you are chosen (it’s kind of like a lottery) and you should write a review for the book in exchange. There’s a short window of opportunity to get accepted for the Netgalley, they don’t keep the copies forever. Check out this paragraph. Putting a hold on a book means it will get checked out to me and that could mean multiple books at the same time for the library or Netgalley,with a limited time to read them.

You guessed it. I currently have three books on my ereader or phone app, with at least two others I had started. I hate to drop the books I “won” as much as I hate to *not* finish.

In addition to the ebooks, I got a big, thick Ken Follet for Christmas that I’m picking away at. My Christmas gifts also include $50 gift card which I have used. Twice.

The other half of the TBR stack

I now have too much to read.

I’m going to have to put them into priority order and concentrate on the temporary files, the library and NetGalley books plus the hard back one. The photos for this post are the growing stack of paper books that are on my night table. Normally my ereader is laying across the top with my reading glasses. I confess there is another stack of paperbacks that I borrowed from a cousin who discovered I liked the author and I think there’s at least one more biography floating around that my mother gave me. I’m ignoring the stack of travel magazines for another blog post.

That TBR pile is fairly diverse between semi-classic (20th century), fantasy, historical fiction and modern fiction.

The Ken Follett book is A Column of Fire, his latest in the “Kingsbridge” series that started with Pillars of the Earth. Loved that book, liked the next one and am liking this one quite a lot as well even though it’s based far less in Kingswood than the other two were.

The Beguiled by Thomas Cullinan is in the heap because I really like the Clint Eastwood movie made of it in the 1970s. I didn’t realize it was based on a book. It’s been remade with that little Irish actor with the intense eyebrows…Colin Farrell, that’s him. I haven’t seen it yet, but somehow I have a feeling I will remain faithful to Clint Eastwood.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende was recommended by my Aunt Denise when we were browsing a superb second hand bookstore in Sidney, British Columbia called The Haunted Bookstore. I have heard about Isabel Allende for a long time, with high hopes, I’ve decided to take the leap.

Six of Crows is the first of two fantasy books by Leigh Bardugo. I like a bit of science fiction and fantasy now and then and this looked interesting. It also has a feeling of Guardians of the Galaxy about it. Could be fun.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Sometimes I really enjoy the book behind a movie, they always have more detail about the characters and back-plot.

Muriel Sparks wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was a wonderful 1960s film starring Maggie Smith as a dotty teacher of young “gels” with her philosophies leaning towards Nazism. I didn’t realize Ms Sparks had written quite a lot of books so I ordered a few off Amazon awhile back and haven’t got to them yet.

 

Review: Remembering the Bones – Frances Itani

2018:11
5 of 5 stars
Published in 2007

This is Georgie’s story. Georgina Witley. She’s nearly 80 and has been invited to participate in a formal lunch at Buckingham Palace because her birthday is the same day as that of Queen Elizabeth I along with the other 99 guests who are also invited. But Georgie only gets to the end of her road where she accidentally drives her car off the road and down into a steep ravine. Georgie is thrown from the car but is injured and has no way to alert anyone.

She spends several days there, with exposure to the elements. While her injuries may not be fatal, lack of food and especially water just might be. She tries to keep her mind alert by reciting the latin names of the bones in the body and remembering anecdotes from her life and her family, hoping to ward off the Grim Reaper who is ever inching closer. She doesn’t filter her memories through in chronological order as you might think. That’s just the way most minds work. She keeps herself motivated by talking ..to herself, to her late husband, to her mother and even to Death himself as she slowly inches her way to her vehicle, hoping for a little warmth and a way to sound the horn to alert someone for help.

Frances Itani writes exquisitely and she writes about women, women that are vastly different from each other but all have a very true and real presence.

Review: White Heat – M.J. McGrath

2018: 10
5 of 5 stars
Published 2017

White Heat takes place in a small settlement on Ellesmere Island in the most northern part of Canada there is. The tundra is bleak, the wind is chilly at the best of times and can flashfreeze your skin at an instant’s notice.

Edie Kiglatu is a teacher and guide who takes curious tourists out on hunting expeditions. On one fateful expedition, while Edie was in the forest, one of her two tourists is killed but not by the other one. A few weeks later, the other tourist returns to try to find evidence and he, too, dies. Another tragedy closer to home shatters Edie. Grief and anger take over and she takes matters into her own hands when the local law authorities and tribal elders are more than willing to sweep it all under a rug. People are dying and Edie needs to find out why.

One thing I loved about this book was the excellent descriptions of the Northern environment and culture of the Inuit, what they believed, what they ate, their customs, and more. The writing and detail is so good that you really feel like seal blubber might actually be a tasty treat! These far northern settlements do not make for an easy life but for the First Nations that call it home, it’s the only way of life they know so they get on with it. Other people have arrived for a variety of reasons, to stay or just to visit.

The author is British but has done a lot of traveling including to Ellesmere Island where this book takes place. Her research feels meticulous and I would enjoy reading the other two books she has out about Edie.

Review: Tomboy Survival Guide – Ivan Coyote

2018: 9
4 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Ivan Coyote is a trans-man, or rather, “gender-box-defying adult” who is a writer, storyteller and stage performer. In this book, they reveal anecdotes from their life growing up in Whitehorse in Canada’s far north. There are stories about their family, stories about their friends, about meeting the general public when they’re on tour. There are letters  that touch the heart, answers that open your eyes, issues raised and explained, labels cast away because they don’t fit anyway.  Ivan was lucky in some respects. They had a loving family and the support network there for them.

I know several trans people so I’m familiar with some of the issues but I learned something from this book, too. I think it would be a very good book for young adults to read as well. A lot of Ivan’s shows are actually directed towards younger people, maybe to head them off before they become too entangled in labels. This was one of the Canada Reads 2018 books on the long list though it didn’t make the cut to the short list. Too bad, it’s certainly an eye opener, in a good way. Ivan’s stories of their childhood, discovering that they were meant  to be a boy and the hard road to get there,  the bullies, the battle of the bathrooms. We watch them persevere and become the person they were meant to. The road to get to that spot in life is bumpy but ultimately, for Ivan, they find their place in lifel

Going (Book) Clubbing

Do you belong to a book club? They’ve been around a very long time, mostly under the radar but in the past 20 years or so, they’ve become really popular. They have also moved out of people’s homes and into local bookstores, I’ve noticed signs up for them in “my” Chapter’s store and in others. I think some of the libraries provide space for them, too. I’ve never belonged to one.

I know. That seems odd considering how much I read. With Goodreads, I’ve been a participant in online group reads so that’s kind of the same thing. The appeal of “real life” book clubs is the physical interaction, the coffee/tea/wine/treats aspect, the live reaction and discussion. Unless you’re meeting in an online real time chat room to talk about a book, the discussion loses it’s initiative (I think that’s the right word I was looking for) and it’s impact. Whether I could find a book club or join one at the bookstore or library  likely wouldn’t be difficult. The main drawback for me was that I don’t own a vehicle and traipsing around in the evenings by bus does not appeal in the least. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

I attended a book club meeting once, with a friend of mine on a late spring evening. I think there were about 8 or 10 women attending, most on the older side of middle age, all very well educated and most of them quite serious readers, I think. I don’t remember the book they were discussing and I do know I hadn’t read it. The club was also choosing the books for the next year, beginning in September (taking the summer off). My suggestion of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon made the cut for the first book of the new reading  year, a good summer read, it was deemed. I wonder if they read it and  if they ended up enjoying it.

This brings me to a very famous book “club” started some years ago by Oprah Winfrey. She is a reader herself and decided to recommend books to her fans, books that she enjoyed and made a “club” out of it. Everyone would read a book for a month or two. Then she’d have the author on her tv show and they could all talk about/watch the show about the book. Her recommendation would spike sales for that book immensely and generate a lot of interest in that author. She didn’t just pick books off the top seller lists either and that made it interesting. A little later, she started to focus on Classics. I think Oprah did quite a lot to promote literacy not just in children, not just in people who struggled to read, but in ordinary folks that just never took the time to read or appreciate the joy of a well written book.

I never participated in Oprah’s book club but did look at the books she recommended. Many of her choices were written by black writers and/or were about black women and their experiences. That would resonate with her and a lot of her audience and you want a book that you can relate to. I’m not black so sometimes I found it difficult to relate to a book’s message and some of the books she promoted were quite dark. Not all, though. But an Oprah sticker on a book at your bookstore will pretty much guarantee you a good book with an intriguing character or two in it.

The reason I’ve dug into all of this is this month’s newest Oprah book club, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I’m not sure why but the book caught my eye. It’s about an African American couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s world comes crashing down when Roy is jailed for something he didn’t do, and what happens to them both individually and as a couple after that. I thought “Oooh, that sounds good”.  Then I realized I had read one of Ms. Jones’ books before and liked that one, too. It’s called Silver Sparrow and is the story of two families linked by a bigamist husband but told from the point of view of the daughters. (My review) Always a good sign if I’ve already “met” the author and liked one of their books.

It’s now on my wishlist, with the hope that I can get an ecopy from my library. I’ve got too many others on the go at the moment to try to fit that in as well and with Canada Reads  coming soon, that’s going to bump a few more books up the priority list. (looks ruefully at the increasing stack of paper books and magazines stacking up waiting to  be read and loved!)

You can browse through Oprah’s picks here and there’s a downloadable pdf file of them there as well. She’s chosen a good variety of books over the past 20 years including two of my all time favourites, Fall On Your Knees, by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s a good list to peruse if you’re looking for something new.

Q&A with Tayari Jones

So. Do you belong to a book club? Is it “in real life” or online? Is it more about the social aspect than the books? I think once I retire I may look around for one, perhaps one that meets on a Sunday afternoon and near-ish where I live in case taxis are going to be involved.