Review: Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall

2017:70
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2009

This was selected by my Goodreads Canadian Content group as the monthly group read for August, in conjunction with our monthly challenge to read books about LGBTQ characters or written by LGBTQ authors. I was happy that my library hold came through in time to read it for the group read and challenge.

The story follows a group of twenty something friends in Toronto as they try to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives, something a lot of people that age struggle with.  Josh is a transgender male who is a paramedic and we get a lot of inside info on what kind of toll that can take on the EMTs who save lives on a daily, or, in Josh’s case, nightly basis. Amy is his girlfriend, bisexual and a filmmaker. Hillary, who now calls herself Billy, used to be a famous pop star but is now struggling with severe panic attacks. Roxy seems to be the glue that holds them all together, the mutual friend that they all met through. Josh and Amy’s relationship is falling apart and Billy’s just broken up with her long term girlfriend.

There are new crushes, old loves, and people are just trying to figure it all out. The sexuality of the characters is secondary to the story, really. It is what it is. It doesn’t seem like the lives of these gay/trans characters are any different than others in the same generation, all facing adulthood, still not really settled into responsibility for the most part, Josh aside, who has a very responsible job but still, his personal  life is in upheaval. The story, the friendships, the getting-on-with-things, and that last push to full on adulthood, that’s what it’s about.

I did like the book and the story told from mainly three points of view, Josh, Billy and Amy. From my point of view, someone old enough to be a parent of any of these characters, it was a little harder to relate to them. My twenties were a lot more stable though they did end in divorce. It was a quick read and the second of Zoe Whittall’s I have read. I will be reading more from her.

Review – Lost in September by Kathleen Winter

2017:68
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

I read Annabel by Kathleen Winter and it was a beautiful, sad and pretty much awesome book so I was excited to see she had a new one coming out. I received an electronic copy from Netgalley and got stuck in. Lost in September is very, very different from Annabel. It’s about a young ex-soldier who just happens to be a dead ringer for General James Wolfe, who died in 1759 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. He also apparently has Wolfe’s memories. Somehow, he seems to be the same man or a reincarnation, perhaps. Or maybe he’s just a soldier with PTSD and has retreated into history to survive.

The original Wolfe, as a younger soldier, was about to have leave in Paris but in September of 1752, Britain dropped their calendar and joined the rest of Christian Europe, adopting the Gregorian calendar. It meant that everyone lost 12 days, jumping from September 2 to 14 overnight and Wolfe lost his leave. He’s resented that for, well, centuries and is in modern day Montreal trying to recoup those lost days. Through the modern day Jimmy, we relive Wolfe’s past, his relationships with his parents and friends and key events in his life. He returns to Montreal each year in September, the anniversary of both the missing leave days and the anniversary of Wolf’s death, camping out or living in a mens’ shelter. Montreal would seem to be the closest thing to Paris he can manage as he tries to get those lost days back. The present day Jimmy leans on the kindness of friends such as a historical researcher studying his old letters, someone whom he met in a library in Toronto. Little by little, Jimmy’s own past starts to permeate his “Wolfe” memories.

It all sounds a bit strange yet it’s compelling as well. The book is tagged as a “reimagining of history”. Winter has done a lot of research on Wolfe and added her own spin to the man and his private life, personal thoughts and “memories”.

Review: Summer of My Amazing Luck – Miriam Toews

2017: 66
3 of 5 stars
Published 1996

I’ve read two or three of Miriam Toews’ books and they’re fabulous so when I was looking around for a book to read for the Cross Canada reading challenge for the province of Manitoba, someone reminded me that Ms. Toews is from there and many of her books are situated in that province. Oh, yes! I had forgotten that. I looked at the descriptions for the ones I hadn’t read and decided on Summer of My Amazing Luck, which is her first novel, and borrowed it from the library’s digital site.

Lucy is an 18 year old single mum of an infant boy. She moves into a public housing block in Winnipeg known by the residents as “Half-a-Life” and meets Lish, a single mum of four girls. Lish’s two youngest, twins, were conceived on a one night stand with a busker, a man whose name she never got, a man she thinks might have been the love of her life. Years after their encounter, she gets a letter from him fondly remembering their night together and she and Lucy and the kids embark on a road trip to find him.

The novel is filled with great, quirky characters, mostly residents of the apartment building, mostly single women with children all trying to survive on welfare. But this isn’t a story about the grim realities of poverty that these women are enduring. It’s a lighthearted look at friendship and endurance as Lucy tells us about Life at Half-a-Life. The women struggle but they are strong and there’s always hope. There are lots of references to Canadian pop culture, Manitoba weather, and government red tape to be untangled, all of  which I liked. It all contributed to making this story feel “real”.

Lucy is telling the story but she’s probably the least interesting character. Her mother died 3 years ago but she’s not really grieved properly and her father is not emotionally there for her. She’s got a baby and she’s new to the welfare system so it’s overwhelming for her to figure out the system, something the other mothers have already gone through. At 18, she’s clearly not as mature as she thinks she is. She mentions a couple of times that she spends more time interfering in other peoples’ lives yet I didn’t get that at all aside from the one big lie she told to her friend.  Lish is easily the most colourful, with eccentricities in her personality, the way she dresses and the way she raises her kids. The road trip was brief and not a huge part of the book like the description would have you believe. It’s a turning point for Lucy, I think, coming to terms with her mother’s death and her own life. I also seemed to have missed the point of the book’s title. It doesn’t seem to match the story.

This is Miriam Toews’ debut novel and while her more recent ones are more serious and heart wrenching, you can clearly see in this book that she has talent and a grasp of making her characters leap off the page, utterly identifiable to the reader. To me, anyway. I will be working my way through her books and highly recommend her as an author to anyone.

#20BooksOfSummer
Cross Canada Reading Challenge (Manitoba)

Review: The Only Cafe – Linden McIntyre

2017:63
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

Pierre Cormier, a Lebanese native who immigrated to in Nova Scotia in 1982 disappeared, presumed dead  5 years ago when his boat exploded. He was finally declared dead and his son, Cyril, starts to unravel the secrets that his father kept about his past.  His father wanted his life celebrated with a roast at an out of the way pub called The Only Cafe. The only non-familiar name on the provided guest list is Ari, a regular at the pub. As Cyril begins to delve into the past of the man he never knew well, we also find out about Peter from flashbacks to Peter’s life, to traumatic events in Lebanon during wartime in the 70s and 80s and to the early millennium where “current” events in Peter’s life start to trigger long repressed memories of those events. Cyril is working for a national news network and his personal investigation may have ties to an ongoing one at work.

Who is Ari? Did Pierre and Ari know each other back in the day? Ari plays things very close to his chest as does Pierre but they have similar shared experiences. There are truths and a lot of lies and a very tangled web. Cyril might find out more than he expected or nothing at all, not really. The ending is as murky as the politics which is probably the point. It’s more important to accept what’s happened and move on, once you get to that understanding.

Linden McIntyre is an excellent writer who builds a world and weaves a plot with skill. His plots are dramatic and his characters jump off the pages. They are real and they are intriguing and the plot points build up and are revealed at just the right speed. You keep coming back for more. The most interesting parts of the book, for me, were those from Pierre’s point of view, telling his story and experiences in the civil war in Lebanon. Not very uplifting but some of the events are based on actual ones which lends a touch of reality, grounding the plot a bit more.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC
#20BooksofSummer

Review: Twenty-One Cardinals – Jocelyne Saucier

2017:59
4 of 5 stars
Published 2006
Translated from French by Rhonda Mullins

The Cardinal family is reuniting after nearly 30 years. They haven’t all been in the same place at the same time since a tragedy in a local mine tore them apart but the secret behind that tragedy is about to come out after being hidden for so long.

There were 21 children in the family. They were out of control, nearly feral in the town of Norco, a mining town in Quebec, the mine their prospector father discovered. The mine that was ultimately their undoing. Told from the point of view of several of the siblings, we hear about their escapades, their united front, their guilt and how they deal with it as adults, their conspiracy to hide the truth of the  disappearance of one of them from their mother and youngest brother, but the real truth was something none of them saw coming.

The truth of the disappearance is known to the reader through most of the book but the plot doesn’t seem forced or trite. It’s probably a bit unrealistic perhaps, but you believe it. The final twist might not be a surprise by the time you’ve learned more about the missing sister. This is a translated book and the translator’s prose is beautiful. I can only imagine how lovely it might be in the original French.

#20BooksOfSummer

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

2017: 45
4 of 5 stars
Published January 2013

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and he really knows his business. He’s single, 40,  and does not make friends easily. In fact, he only has two, and one of those is an elderly lady who is now in a senior citizen home. He has decided, however, that it’s time he finds a wife and in order to screen the candidates properly, comes up with a long and detailed questionnaire to filter out all unsuitable candidates.

Enter Rosie. Sent to him by his other friend, Gene, Rosie is most certainly unsuitable but she’s mainly there to ask his help in finding her biological father. The Wife Project is set aside for The Father Project and they spend a lot of time together. Don is not your ordinary man and has challenges. He’s very clearly living with Asperger’s Syndrome though doesn’t realize it in spite of having conducted lectures in the subject on Gene’s behalf. I think Rosie probably picked up on it early because she’s a PHD in psychology and would recognize the symptoms but it’s never raised as an issue. Don is who he is. Don’s methodical methods and expertise are just what Rosie needs.

You can see that he’s starting to find her appealing but since he doesn’t consider her a wife candidate, just a friend, and he doesn’t think he’s capable of the emotion of love, he continually says or does the wrong thing, having no clue about how to read emotions or situations. Love isn’t logical and Don is lost at sea when it comes to things like that and yet, and yet, he seems to be a lot happier around Rosie than without her.  The story is fun and light hearted and it’s a feel-good book. You get exasperated when Don yet again gets it wrong, you wait with anticipation to see if he gets it right. You want to tell them both not to give up. You sigh with satisfaction at the end.

Review: Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

2017: 38
3.5 of 5 stars
Published July 2016

Three couples got together for an afternoon barbeque. Something happened that changed everything and it’s now two months later. Relationships are irrevocably changed. Can their relationships and friendships survive? All six adults are still alive so it wasn’t a death but like another book by Moriarty, Big Little Lies, we don’t find out what happened until near the end with the rest of the story told with flashbacks.

Three couples, all with seemingly good marriages. Old friends mixing with new ones.This is a character study that teases the reader about the event in question, not a thriller, or whodunnit and I have to say it does get a bit tedious after awhile. There’s no threatening villain. You pretty much assume that someone said or did or saw something that had a huge impact on the others because those friends that are still talking to each other in the present aren’t on easy terms and all three relationships seem to have been affected.

Did someone get roaring drunk and let a secret out of the closet? Was there serious flirting involved? These were all things that went around in my head as I read the book and every time they teased you about something happening on the day of the barbeque, I got more and more annoyed but I still had to finish the book to find out what it was, even if it was going to be a “Is that all?” reaction. So the event happened a little past the halfway mark and the real importance of it was the after effect on all of the characters. Guilt is powerful, especially when it stirs up old resentments and stirs up the past in other ways. Even then, there were things that were not revealed completely and these were fed into the plot in drips and drabs through to the end of the book, some extra twists and revelations about the event in question. There was one other little twist, unrelated to “the event” as well that was interesting though not especially surprising considering the long term dynamic between the two people involved.

I like character based stories and while they can be a bit slow moving, I like finding out the background of them all and how it affects the dynamic of the group as a whole. That part of the book was quite good. It was only the vague part, the teasing part and the ongoing sense of a piece of the puzzle missing that was a bit annoying.