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.

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.

Review: Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

2017: 52
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 1997

This is the second book I’ve read by one of Canada’s esteemed authors. Richler has been publishing successful novels since the late 1950s. I previously read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and enjoyed it and I chose Barney’s Version for my second Richler. The story is about the life of Barney Panofsky as told by his good self, a man in his late 60s whose health and memory are both precarious and whose freedom is in some doubt. He may or may not have murdered his old friend, Boogie, 30 years ago and though he was deemed innocent by a jury of his peers, the scandal and doubt hangs over him like an Atlantic fog. The body was never found, m’lud, so there was no murder is Barney’s defence. We do find out what happened at the end of the book.

Anyway, he’s writing his autobiography that centers around each of his three wives, one of whom doesn’t even get named. The book is sectioned off by each wife but don’t think that means the story is told in any sort of alignment. It’s all over the place, with anecdotes and his personal history told as it occurs to him in random order as one thing reminds him of the next and you’re not even sure he’s remembering incidents correctly. He also revisits some of the incidents as need be. His life is filled with crises and scrapes, and he’s not portrayed as all that sympathetic a character nor is he portrayed as a scallywag that the reader treats indulgently. He makes bad judgments and choices, he drinks, he curses, he’s obnoxious,  he has more failures than triumphs, and you wonder how his children and friends can stand him at all though most of them do seem to keep him at arms’ length.

I guess I can’t relate to Barney that well but it doesn’t take away from Richler’s talent at bringing the characters off the page. His humour is dark and cutting, his observations on life’s aspects are as jaded as the characters but spot on.  I have to say I found it a bit more difficult to like at first but it soon hit its stride and carried me along for the ride.

There has been a movie made of this starring Paul Giamatti, released in 2010 and it’s quite a good film, particularly because it puts the events of the novel in their proper order! Duddy Kravitz gets name checked and makes a few brief appearances, now a grownup and it appears he’s as successful as he always planned. The Gursky name also gets a mention which probably relates to Richler’s book, Solomon Gursky Was Here.  I think I will come back to Mordecai Richler again.

Not one of my #20BooksOfSummerChallenge because I started it about a month ago but I am going to use this for my Cross Canada Challenge for Quebec.

Review: Gold Fever by Vicki Delany

2017: 49
3 of 5 stars
Published January 2010

Dawson City in the Klondike, 1898, is a bustling town filled with people on a quest for gold. It’s a town of wooden shacks, tents, booze, mud, dance hall girls, prostitutes, people intent on making a fortune one way or another, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who always get their man or woman.

Fiona MacGillivray has found Dawson City a good place to retreat to, a place to make some money and raise her son, Angus. She owns the Savoy, a successful dance hall. She is beautiful (and knows it and plays it to her best advantage), a bit haughty, strong, determined, and it sounds like she’s had more than a few scrapes and adventures in her life. She has secrets from her past, lived a rather scurrilous life and we get to hear a little more about it in this book. A face from her past shows up, reminding her of things she’d buried deeply inside.

Her son saves a native woman from suicide, a nosy writer comes to town, the notorious Madam has it in for Fiona and has decided to ruin her.  It all kicks off from there, including a murder or two.

This is the second book in a series about Fiona’s adventures in Dawson City. There’s some romantic overtones around the edges but it’s not about that because Fiona doesn’t seem to want anyone to get too close. She’s not altogether a sympathetic character, being vain about her looks and her clothing, jewelry etc but she does love her son above all else which gives her a redeeming quality. She also seems to have a habit of getting caught up in murders!  The Gold Rush setting is interesting and the plot moves along quickly. It’s an easy read with colourful characters and a murder mystery neatly wrapped up by the final chapter.

Review: Impact to Contact: The Shag Harbour Incident

2017: 48
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2013

October 1967. Nova Scotia’s south shore. There is a small fishing village named after a local sea bird called Shag Harbour. On the night of October 4, 1967 strange lights were seen over the sky and it looked like the object crashed into the ocean at one point. They were also seen elsewhere that evening, near the town of Shelburne and in the sky in Halifax. This book looks at the incident and digs into the documentation from various sources including the government along with testimony from witnesses. It seems likely that it was a genuine UFO sighting but no official word will ever actually say so.

It is centered on the Shag Harbour incident but also on UFO sightings in the area and in general, presenting evidence, interviews and research in an easy to understand fashion. Some of it is very interesting, relating geological anomolies in various locations to sightings that seem to coincide. Some of the research is a tad dry and I couldn’t always read a lot in one sitting but for the most part, the book contains some very convincing arguments.

My opinion: It seems to me that it’s  very isolationist to assume we are the only planet with life and a society in the whole universe.  We all wonder if there’s life on other planets and moons. Some would naturally be more technologically advanced and some are still in the basic stages of evolution and all points in between. For the advanced species, surely they are just as curious and adventurous as we would be, if  and when we have the ability to explore.

You can decide for yourself. The Truth Is Out There.

Review: Baygirl – Heather Smith

2017:47
3 of 5 stars
Published 2010

Kit Ryan lives in an outport fishing village in Newfoundland. She’s 16 and it’s 1992 and life is difficult when your father is an alcoholic. It’s a life of being on an emotional roller coaster, never knowing what kind of drunk your father is today or how he’s going to react to any given statement or situation. Kit has a lifelong best friend and takes refuge with her grandmother often.

But the cod fishing industry is dying and with a government moratorium, Kit’s father can’t work and the family moves to St. John’s to live with Uncle Iggy who’s unemployed himself, sunk into depression and grief. Kit doesn’t fit in at school and things are no better at home. But there is an older Yorkshireman who lives next door who is always ready with a teapot. She does make a friend at school and there’s even a boy that likes her. The problem is, Kit has to learn to accept her father as he is and find a way to trust.

It’s a short novel and doesn’t go very deep into the issues behind the issues other than a brief look into her father’s background near the end. Kit’s got a lot of anger as you might expect and it’s clear that in some ways it holds her back. She spends a lot of energy pushing back against things she has no way of controlling or changing. By the time she begins to reconcile her feelings, it might be too late. There could have been a bit more depth to the story and relationships between Kit and her parents but there’s enough there to tell the story.

The next door neighbour is a bit of a stereotype with plenty of Yorkshire slang and “ee by gum”.  The nice boy dates the school bitch and sees the light pretty quickly. Having Kit around seems to lift Uncle Iggy up and give him a reason to clean himself up and find reasons to want to live his life again. A return to her home village 6 months after leaving finds all her friends changed completely, even her best friend which felt a bit extreme to me. Now she doesn’t fit in at her old home or her new one.

Overall, an ok story but it could have been better. I may not be the generation this book is intended for but that shouldn’t matter. Or maybe it does. I make this sound more negative than I should, I think. I did like it, but I would have liked a bit more of it.