Review: The Watch that Ends the Night – Hugh MacLennan

2017: 82
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 1959

This is the final book I needed to read to complete my 2017 Bingo Reading Challenge “Card”! The square called for a book published in the year you were born (or decade if you couldn’t find something). That gives me a few months to research books that might work for next year’s Bingo challenge!

George Stewart is married to Catherine, the love of his life whose health is precarious due to a heart condition. But she was married to a man before him, a man who became his best friend, Dr. Jerome Martell. Jerome went missing in WWII, presumed dead in a POW camp. But Jerome has returned to Montreal and the apple cart is upset.

The story then retreats into the pasts of all three characters to bring t heir stories from the 1930s right up to the early 1950s when the story began. George became a third wheel in the relationship between Catherine and Jerome and was a good family friend to them both up to when Jerome left Montreal to take his medical skills to the Spanish Civil War.   Montreal in the 1930s was crackling with politics, with the Spanish war between the Fascists and Communists firing imaginations worldwide. George then has to deal with the huge impact that Jerome’s return has caused. I did find that the narrative got dragged down by too much philosophy near the end. I don’t think it really added to the story much, just gave the author a chance to express his own views on the world and the individual.

It’s the story of relationships, friendship, politics, families, love, survival and loyalties. The characters are interesting and the dynamics between them are written very realistically. I’m reading this book nearly 60 years after it was written, but it doesn’t feel dated at all.

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Review: Fall On Your Knees – Anne-Marie MacDonald

2017: 77
5 of 5 stars
Published 1996

This is one of my all time favourite books and I was due a re-read. In this year’s CanadianContent (on Goodreads) Bingo Challenge, one of the squares was to read your favourite book. Perfect opportunity!

Fall On Your Knees is the story of the Piper family, a nice, long, chunky book covering several generations of a family and mostof the early the 20th century in and around New Waterford and Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It starts with Lebanese immigrant Materia who marries Cape Breton native James when she was a young teen, progresses through their four daughters, beautiful and talented Kathleen, Mercedes the mother figure, Lily, the disabled and much loved baby of the family and wild Frances and reaches the next generation. Themes touched on include war, incest, racism, prostitution, family secrets, abuse.  Did I mention family secrets? There are an awful lot of them. That makes the book sound awfully grim, doesn’t it? And yet the characters are so well written and the writing itself so superb that I found it hard to put down. Anne-Marie MacDonald is from Cape Breton so she knows the culture and the people very well.

This is a debut novel and made quite a splash at the time, at least , winning the Governor General’s award. Ann-Marie MacDonald hasn’t written very many full length novels but they are all very well worth reading. (The Way the Crow Flies (my second favourite of hers), Adult Onset) She tends to focus on plays and has a few novellas as well. She acts and has been a CBC presenter on The Life and Times.

This is my second last book to read to complete my Bingo Challenge, as well.

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 Reviewed

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)
The Watch That Ends the Night – Hugh McLennan Reviewed

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: Ava Comes Home by Lesley Crewe

2017: 50
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2008

Ava Harris, aka Libby MacKinnon, is an Oscar winning actress who must come home to Glace Bay, Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) when she finds out her mother is dying. She has not been home in the 10 years since she left,  and when she left, it was sudden and secret, leaving behind her childhood sweetheart. Something obviously happened to send her running, something she never told her family or her boyfriend Seamus, and when she returns home, she must face it and the boy she left behind.

This is a fairly routine story in that you pretty much can predict how it’s going to go and that it’ll have a happy ending. The incident that Libby/Ava ran from is revealed a little over half way through but there’s still a twist which I didn’t see coming.

Lesley Crewe gives us good characters and dialogue and it’s set in my home province. I “know” lots of people like these lovely “Capers” (Cape Bretoners). Salt of the earth. I know the references to shops, locations, etc. For me,  because of these things, it’s a very relatable book.

Another book for my Cross Canada Reading Challenge, Nova Scotia and one for #20BooksOfSummer

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.