Two more books and an explanation

Yesterday a group of colleagues (and friends) went to high tea to celebrate the upcoming birth of Lauren’s baby boy. Lauren is a HUGE reader – this girl burns through books, so we talked a bit about what we are reading. I mentioned that I’m currently reading Bird Box by John Malerman, and gave everyone a quick rundown on its terrifying dystopian plot. At this point, Sarah asked me why I would like a book like that, but have zero interest in the Game of Thrones series (which she’s currently burning through). game of thrones

It was a good question. Everyone loves Game of Thrones, right? Not me.

For me, books just don’t resonate if I can’t ground them in reality. I love books that twist and reshape reality, but I like to think about what could happen in the world we live in, and simply don’t really care about worlds that don’t really exist. Imagined kingdoms and lands just don’t do it for me.

So, Harry Potter? Yes. Lord of the Rings? No. Zombies? Yes. Aliens? Not really.

As with all types of art, this is purely a personal preference and something unlikely to change too much, though there are always exceptions to every rule. For Chad, the more hard core the sci-fi or the fantasy novel the better, which means it’s a rare and exciting book when both of us read it and enjoy it (which is currently the case with Bird Box. More on that when I finish it).

I’m sure I’m going to get an earful on how wrong I am and how I should give certain things a chance, and that’s fine…but it’s not likely going to happen.

Anyway, back to my latest reads. I’m up to 22 books read in 2014 and have two to talk about.

The first is Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen.  I’ve read a few other books by her back in the days when I was reading everything Oprah recommended, and thought she was fine, but not still lifetoo memorable. A few months ago I heard her interviewed about this book on CBC and really liked her as a person, so thought I’d throw this request into the library.

My memory of her writing was pretty bang on. This book is fine, but not too memorable. A once famous photographer with dwindling resources, sublets her New York apartment and moves to a cabin in upstate New York where she revives her career and begins a new life with the locals. Fine. Not too memorable. It took me too long to get through, not because it was a tough read at all – in fact, it’s an extremely easy read. I just didn’t really feel motivated or compelled to pick it up.

The second book, though…holy crap.

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia blew me away. This book was nearly impossible to put down.

It starts in the early 1980s with a 12 year old girl, bored of bridesmaid duties at her sister’s wedding, running around the Bellweather Hotel. On the seventh floor she stumbles onto a horrifying scene – a groom in a tuxedo shot in the chest, and a bride in her wedding gown, hanging from an extension cord in Room 712. Fifteen years later to the date, the weekend of a high school statewide music workshop,  this girl returns to face her fears, only to find that something else is going on in Room 712. Told from the perspective of several characters including Minnie (the bellweathergirl), a twin brother and sister (bassoonist and singer respectively) who have secrets of their own, their music teacher chaperone, the hotel’s haunted concierge, the orchestra’s conductor and the ice cold head of the music program, this novel is as close to an old-school Agatha Christie mystery as I’ve read in a long time. Great characters, a fantastic setting, and a plot that leaves you guessing to the end.

Love, love, loved this book.

As I said, Bird Box is on the go now. Should be done this weekend.

Cheers,

kp

Also…I hate the Game of Thrones TV series. There. I said it.

 

 

 

 

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Over the weekend I finished my 20th book of the year. Woohoo! Not bad, considering we’re 18 weeks in. wolves

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt takes place in the mid-1980s, when AIDS was emerging and the fear and misunderstanding about it was at its peak. The book is told from the point of view of a 14 year old girl, June, who is mourning the death of her artist uncle – her favourite person in the world.

His partner, completely hidden from June through their nine year relationship, is lonely and desperate to connect with someone who shares and understands his grief. They become secret friends, and June learns  the complexities of family, and the power of love over shame.

It was named one of the best books of 2013 by the likes of the Wall Street Journal and O: The Oprah Magazine, and while I wouldn’t necessarily agree to that, it was a good, solid read. Truth be told, it could have used about a 30 page trim, but overall I liked it.

Next up: Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen.

kp

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Three great reads

I’m lagging again.

Not in my reading, just in my writing. Since my last post I’ve finished three more books – and each of them was pretty great.

mebefore youThe first was Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. Earlier this year I read another of her books (The Girl You Left Behind) and enjoyed it, so I requested this one from the library as well. I loved it. Me Before You is about an unemployed British girl stuck in a dead-end relationship who gets a job as an assistant for a quadriplegic. It could be corny or predictable, but it really isn’t. The characters are well rounded and sympathetic. A nice, good read.

the circleThe second was The Circle by Dave Eggers. In a very near future The Circle connects everyone. Social media turned up several notches, it layers in your financial information with your duty to vote and of course your connections with everyone you know – and don’t. Mae gets a job at The Circle’s incredible campus thanks to a friend who holds a top position there, and becomes enmeshed in The Circle’s environment, community and philosophy. As she becomes immersed in the ways of The Circle, there were times when I needed to stop reading and take a break because it felt too close. It’s hyper-real and extremely easy to imagine in a terrifying way. Dystopian future done right. A great read.

little failureFinally, I just finished reading Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart – another excellent book. This is the memoir of Russian-born author Gary Shteyngart who outlines his early years in Leningrad, his family’s move to America, his immigrant experience at a New York Jewish school and then later at a Manhattan school for smart kids, his college years and his evolution into an author. Highly entertaining, it’s often very funny, and often just sad. Not quite Sedaris, but a worthwhile read.

That’s it for now. I’m 19 books into my 52 book challenge (37% done).

What’s next? I haven’t decided yet…

kp

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Latest read: The Chaperone

I mentioned a few posts back that my mom is a reading machine, thanks to her library card. As such, she’s become a bit of a book tester for me, chaperoneoffering recommendations if there’s something she really likes.The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was one of those recommendations.

In the same vein as The Paris Wife, The Chaperone takes historical characters and builds a story around them. In this case, it’s a teenaged Louise Brooks, who would later become a cinema icon in the final days of silent pictures. The book starts in the 1920s when 15 year old Louise Brooks is accepted to the Denishawn dance company in New York City. Cora, a 38 year old seemingly perfect wife and mother of grown twin sons offers to accompany Louise to New York as her chaperone. While there, Cora digs into her own past and reveals that not everything is quite as it seems.

It’s well written and an easy read. I’m always a bit of a sucker for historical fiction and am fascinated with the 1920s, so I liked all of that. What I didn’t like is just how much Moriarty tries to cram into the books final third. There’s a lot going on beyond the Louise Brooks story – what do people hide and why do they hide it? What does family mean? Why do appearances matter so much? What does it mean to really know yourself? All that is great, but I found she gets a little heavy handed at times when it comes to the causes Cora champions. Just a few too many themes.

Overall, I liked it. Nothing groundbreaking (I’m still waiting for a contender for The Goldfinch), but good nonetheless.

Next up: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

kp

 

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Desperately seeking…

I have another three books under my belt for 2014, and once again they’re wildly different in terms of writing style, subject mattstellaer and characters. That said, they all have one theme in common: each book’s main character is searching for something.

The first book is Stella Bain by Anita Shreve. I’ve read a few of Shreve’s books before – The Pilot’s Wife back when it was an Oprah’s Book Club pick in the ’90s and The Testimony a few years ago – and I thought they were okay. This one? Ugh. An American woman wakes up in a French military hospital during WWI with no recollection of who she is or how she got there. The book has her piecing her life back together as she deals with shell shock. The plot is actually fine. The writing is terrible. It is clunky, dull and just bad. To me it read more like a book outline than the actual book: the character does this, and then she thinks this, and then she does this, and then she goes here. There is nothing in the writing of this book to make me care about any of the characters let alone feel curious about what happens to them. One of the worst I’ve read in a while.serialist

The second book  is The Serialist by David Gordon. In this book, Harry Bloch, a hack writer – known for ghost writing a teen vampire series, sci-fi erotica and a column in a porn magazine – receives a letter from his biggest fan: a serial killer on death row, who wants Harry to write his memoir. Harry agrees, but when women who have written letters to the jailed killer start dying in the serial-killer’s signature way, he’s on the run to save himself, convince the authorities of his innocence, and figure out what’s going on. It’s gruesome, fast-paced and a true page turner. It’s also weirdly an ode to art and writing. I liked it.

The third book is The House Girl by Tara Conklin. The story of two women – one, a house girl planning her escape from a plantation in pre-Civil War Virginia; the other a lawyer in New York who is searching for a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking reparation for the housedescendants of slaves. Of course the stories intersect, and the modern-day lawyer seeks to discover and tell the story of Josephine, who may or may not have been the true artist behind the paintings that the plantation owner’s wife is credited with creating. A decent story and a decent read.

Next up: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.

kp

 

 

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A mixed bag of books

My reading tastes are eclectic, and I don’t think there’s a better example of this than the last three books I’ve finished (taking me up to 12 completed longbourntowards my 2014 reading challenge – woohoo!).

The first is Longbourn by Jo Baker. I first heard about this book at the end of 2013 in a CBC Radio best of the year round up, and the critic they had
on talking about books raved about this one. Longbourn is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (which I love) – this time through the voices of the servants at Longbourn, the home of the Bennet family. Each chapter begins with a quote or a sentence from Austen’s novel and then spins its own tale from there. I started this book hot on the heels of finishing the fourth season of Downton Abbey, and was keen for more upstairs/downstairs intrigue. The problem is that while there is intrigue, it doesn’t really turn up until very late in the book. In the meantime there’s a lot of detail about pot scrubbing, petticoat starching and trudging along mucky roads to buy shoe roses for the Bennet girls. It pays off – eventually – but it’s a bit of drudgery to get there.

The second book is Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. The second in a trilogy begun with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City pickshollow city up right where the last book finished. The bad news is that I finished it a few years back, so didn’t quite remember the details as to what was going on. The good news is that I got Chad the graphic novel version for Christmas, so he was able to give me a lovely recap. Hollow City follows a ragtag group of “Peculiars” – children with special gifts, like the ability to float or create fire with your hands or house a hive of bees in your belly – on the run from a group (people? Not quite…) who want to capture and kill them in multiple time periods and places. There’s no point digging into the plot on this, but know that the characters are easy to like and the book is easy to read (technically, it’s a YA novel). Pick up the first one and dive in – they’re good. The bonus of both of the books is the inclusion of wacky found photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s featuring creepy people and places. The best part is that most have been untouched.

The third book is The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick.  I haven’t read anything else he’s written, but I did like the movie version of Silver Linings Playbook, so thought I’d give his new novel a shot. The Good Luck of Right Now deals with grief,goodluck loss, family, odd friendships, cats, Catholicism and Richard Gere. Bartholomew is a 38 year old man who has spent his life living with and taking care of his single mom, who dies of a brain tumour. Finding a form letter from Richard Gere’s Free Tibet charity in his mom’s belongings, Bartholomew starts writing highly personal and emotional letters to Richard Gere, with whom he feels a spiritual connection since his mom called him “Richard” in her final days. The letters detail his meetings with his grief counsellor Wendy who encourages him to find friends, his odd relationship with the parish priest, his obsession with GirlLibrarian (a girl librarian), and a profane misfit grieving the loss of his cat at a group therapy session. It’s a fast, quirky read. I suspect we’ll see the movie version of this sometime soon. Hopefully with Richard Gere.

Next up: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.

kp

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Hug a librarian

Apparently yesterday was “Hug a Librarian Day“. 

My kid at the Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon

My kid at the Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon

 

I didn’t get around to hugging any librarians (though I know and have huge respect for several – I’m looking at you, Michelle, Krista, Sonya and Betty), but I wanted to write a post today about how the library has tangibly changed the quality of life for my family.

If you dig back into the archives of this blog, you’ll see that a few years ago my mom was diagnosed with something called Mycobacterium avium complex, or Lady Windermere Syndrome. It was good news at the time, because it was treatable and curable, as opposed to the fourth stage lung cancer they initially thought it was. Three and a half years later, she still has it, and after a few very intense and long courses of treatment, she’s just not responding. Her lungs are shot. They’ve been described by her doctor as old underwear – no elasticity left.

As such, she doesn’t get out much. She’s around 85 pounds and is susceptible to illness, so big shopping trips or outings are just not a good idea.

Last summer when we were visiting her, I took her to the library and signed her up for a card. She’d had one years ago, but it had lapsed and she hadn’t got around to renewing it.

Since then, I’ve taken on the role as her own librarian – going online, choosing and requesting books for her that the library then puts on hold. My sister, who lives in the same city as my mom, then goes and picks up a stack of new books and returns the finished ones. Since September, I’d wager she’s read at least 150 books, and that number is probably conservative. She’s close to reading a book a day.

These books, which range in genre and era, have changed her life. They take her places she can’t physically go. They give her something to think about beyond what’s outside of her window or the rattle in her chest. They’re keeping her mind sharp and her wits intact. They make her laugh and keep her riveted and always give her something to talk about. They keep her company while my sister’s at work and the temperature is -40 degrees Celsius (it really is that cold in Saskatoon).

So, while I didn’t hug a librarian yesterday, I’m so thankful for them and for libraries. My mom is, too.

kp

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