Book Log & Reading Journal

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“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”

~Anna Quindlen, “Enough Bookshelves,” New York Times, 7 Aug. 1991

 

In July 2014, a friend of mine gave me a “Book Lover’s Journal”  – a place where I could keep track of books that I read, and record my thoughts about them.  I loved the gift, as I am now approaching the age (Ok…honestly, I’m already there…) where I find it hard to remember everything I read – more than once I’ve bought a book, only to settle onto the couch with it at home and realize, ten pages in, that I’ve read it already!    As much as I love my “Book Lover’s Journal”, I must confess that the art of hand-writing is lost on me – I can type my thoughtsso much faster.

I thought, if I were to keep a book journal on the class blog, it might inspire the students to do the same?  So here goes… I’ve transcribed everything that I entered in my journal since July 2014, and will continue to write about the books that I read, with most recent entries at the top.

I hope this inspires you to share your thoughts about what you’re reading, too!

 

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

304 pages, read at home – December 2015download

I picked up this book last year – one of my teacher colleagues was reading it to her class and told me how much they enjoyed it – for some yet-to-be explained reason, it took Amazon over a year to deliver it! I had pretty much forgotten about it when it arrived in the mail one day… Several years ago I read Virunga – Farley Mowat’s account of Dian Fossey’s time with the mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, and since then have been fascinated by these magnificent creatures.  Not an easy story to read (because humans are portrayed, not unfairly, as such savages) – it gives voice to Ivan, a mountain gorilla snatched from his home when he was a baby and displayed in a “mini-zoo” in a mall in mid-west America.  Ivan is a gorilla – a silverback, but he doesn’t feel like one, because he has nothing to fight for, nothing to protect – until Ruby, a baby elephant, arrives to join him.  The story is based in reality – Ivan is a real gorilla – he lives in the Atlanta Zoo… and this is the story that might be his.

 

Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova

inside-the-obriens-9781476717777_hr335 pages, read on the way home from Boston, and at home, November 2015.

I picked up this book because, despite its depressing content, I find Lisa Genova’s trademark subject (neurological disorders) to be a fascinating read.  This book is about Joseph O’Brien, a Boston PD cop, who, in his early forties, discovers that he has Huntingdon’s Disease.  The novel traces the family’s struggle to cope with their father’s deteriorating illness, and their own potential to develop the gene – a 50/50 chance that each of the 4 O’Brien children has the genetic marker.  To say I “enjoyed” the story would be inaccurate – it was hard to read, and heart-breakingly sad at times, but I was fully drawn into the characters’ lives and cared about what happened to them – cared enough, in fact, to find the ending completely infuriating -I won’t tell you why…and I understand the point Genova was making…. but it left me hanging.

 

In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume

397 pages, read at home, September-October 2015.

Blume2The fact that it took me 2 months to read this book is an indication of how tedious I found it.  Sure – it was September, back to school and everything that entails, but this was a book that failed to draw me in – disappointing, given that Judy Blume was an author whose works I devoured as a child – I read every available book – Fudge, SuperFudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Then Again, Maybe I  Won’t, Are you There God? It’s me, Margaret….and others… more than once…. then revelled in the Fudge books as I read them to my kids.  Judy Blume’s adult fiction has been, for me, less gripping.  In the Unlikely Event is based on the true events of a series of plane crashes that occurred just outside of New Jersey in the 1950’s – 3 planes, in under six months, crashing into the same small town.  The novel focuses on the lives of the townspeople and how they are affected by the crash… I don’t know if I was too distracted by my return to the classroom, but I found there were too many stories – so many people with stories to tell, I  would get drawn into one, and then the author would take me away to another… and then another – I found it difficult to keep track and, after a while, difficult to care about the people in the novel – a shorter tale, focused on fewer relationships, would have been a more enjoyable read

 

The Memory Wall, by Anthony Doerr

267 pages, read at home, August 2015.

downloadAlthough short stories are not usually my first choice, I picked up this book by Anthony Doerr, because I so loved his novel, All the Light We Cannot See (which, I can tell from scrollingdown, I read in August 2014 – I knew there was a reason why I was keeping this log!).  The stories within it range from historical fiction to what borders on Science Fiction.  The first story (title story) features a world in which memories can be preserved on cartridges, which can then be inserted into the brain and re-experienced.  The central character is Alma, who suffers from Alzheimers’ Disease, and the playing of her memories back to her brings her some comfort.  The other stories in the book include “Procreate, Generate”, about a young couple trying to have a baby, “The River Nemunas”, about an orphaned teenager starting a new life in Lithuania with her grandfather, and “Village 123” about the relationship between a mother and son, and the destruction of a village with the building of a dam.  The story that intrigued me the most was “Afterworld”, told in alternating time periods by a Holocaust survivor, whose epileptic episodes afford her a window int the past, but also into the future – a future beyond the time in which she will live.  Not a bad read, although I had to go back and remind myself what the 3 middle stories were about – Doerr’s stories were a pleasant way to pass a few summer afternoons

Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett

445 pages, read at home, August 2015

92364I picked up this classic spy novel for 2 reasons:  [1] I had read, and loved, Follett’s epic books The Pillars of the Earth World Without End, and… over the course of 2014-2015, John and I  made our way through 10 seasons of the British Spy series MI-5 (or “Spooks” as it is marketed in Britain) – I loved the culture of the spy stories, and thought I would enjoy a classic spy novel.  I was right – Follett has a gift for introducing characters and getting the reader invested in knowing what makes them tick, and what befalls them… this book is centred upon the main character who has many aliases, but typically goes by the name Henry Faber – he is Die Nadel (The Needle) a ruthless killer and Hitler’s most trusted spy.  Faber learns of a plot by the Allied forces that, if discovered by the Germans would spell the end of the war, with victory falling into the hands of Hitler and the leaders of the Third Reich.  The book held me tightly in its grip as the “spy-catchers” (Fred Bloggs and Percy Godliman) pursue Die Nadel along a bloody trail.  The story culminates on isolated “Storm Island”, where a young couple (David and Lucy Rose) reside.  No spoilers here… if you want to know what happens, Eye of the Needle is a great read.

The Green Mile, by Anne Enright

441 pages, read at home, August 20159780771025150

My husband recommended this book (if you scroll down through other entries, you’ll see he doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to recommending books for me!) – this book tells the story of 4 siblings:  Dan, Constance, Emmet and Hanna – told in alternating chapters.  The story begins with their childhood in the west of Ireland, and ends with them as adults, dealing with their aging mother, Rosaleen.  A story of family dynamics and relationships, it was fine, but didn’t hold me in its grip.  The writing was engaging, and I found I could “see” many of the locales, possibly because I’ve visited towns in the West of Ireland, near the cliffs of Moher, that are very like the unnamed town in which the story is set.  Overall, an “OK” read – I didn’t dislike it, but neither did I close the back cover and feel sad that my time with the characters had ended.

Perfect, by Rachel Joyce

385 pages, read at home, July 2015

17883962I picked up this book, quite some time ago, because I loved Joyce’s novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry;  Perfect was a good enough read, but didn’t compare to that wonderful book.  It tells a story in two time periods, in the same location in England.  One story is set in 1972, and explores the friendship between 2 young boys, Byron and James, as they deal with Byron’s loving but frail mother, Diana.  The novel alternates chapters, with the other story set 40 years later. narrated by an adult male named Jim who suffers, terribly, from Obsessive-Compulsive disorder.  Eventually the two stories find their way to each other, but the journey is long, hard to read (because the characters are so sad) and in the end, somewhat predictable.

 

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_Watchman278 pages, read at home, July 2015

With all the media hype about this book, I wanted to avoid reading it.. I also wanted to preserve the image of Atticus, Scout and Jem that I had in my head since reading To Kill a Mockingbird in high school; (I’ve re-read it severaltimes since 🙂 – but as I walked into a local store one day (not even a bookstore!) there it was, staring me down, and I had to buy it.  A few pages in and I was hooked, completely taken in by the sound of Scout’s voice – there was no doubt I was “listening” to the narrator of Mockingbird once again, and what a treat that was.  Despite all the angst about the book, in the end I believe it was not at all the story of how Atticus became a cross-burning racist in his old age, but rather the story of Jean Louise’s return to her childhood home, and the painful but necessary revelation that her revered Atticus was not the sainted superhero she knew as a child, but just a man – a good man, but a man of his time.  I understand why Lee’s publisher encouraged her to write Mockingbird after reading Watchman – there are gems in the story where Scout reminisces about her childhood in Maycomb, and any editor worth his/her fee would’ve seen that that was the story that was going to win people over

 

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

345 pages, read at home, July 2015

Gillian FlyScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.10.51 AMnn… having read Gone Girl a couple of years ago, and been utterly gripped by it, I will pick up almost anything by this writer, although I have to say nothing has come close to that first novel (Gone Girl is not Flynn’s first novel, but it is the first of hers that I read.)  This one slides back and forth between 2 time periods  – the present day, and the day of a grisly murder in a small town in Kansas over 30 years ago.  Libby Day, the sole survivor of a violent massacre in her home when she was 7 years old, searches for the truth about who killed her family.  I found the story tedious, and the characters generally unlikeable.  I plodded through it only because I wanted to find out what had happened, but I can’t say I enjoyed the journey.   The most redeeming line in the entire book appears in the Acknowledgements, where Flynn thanks the people who motivate and support her as a writer.  She mentions her husband, asking “What do I say to a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?”  Good question!

 

At the Water’s Edge, by Sarah Gruen

348 pages, read at home- mostly lounging by the pool 🙂 – July 2015

I pick51CWAtRJpGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_ed up this book because I loved Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and wasn’t disappointed.  This is the story of Maddie Hyde, her husband Ellis and their friend Hank.  It’s set at first in Philadelphia, and then the Scottish highlands surrounding Loch Ness, towards the end of World War II.  Maddie, Ellis and Hank belong to Philadelphia’s “high” society – rich, elite, snobbish and unable and unwilling to do anything for themselves, they fill their days with social climbing and their nights with booze.  A confrontation between Ellis (who has been disqualified for military service because he is colour blind) and his father, a retired Army Colonel, leads Ellis to flee to Scotland with his wife and friend in tow, determined to prove his worth by finding the infamous Loch Ness Monster.  The story focuses mostly on the relationships that develop between Maddie and the people at the country inn where the Americans live during their stay in Scotland – Captain Angus Grant, Meg, and Annie in particular.   At the risk of introducing a “spoiler”… if you’ve read Water for Elephants and have not yet read At the Water’s Edge (and don’t want to know important plot details) – stop reading here.  I found that Gruen wrote a story with characters that mirrored the 3 main characters in Water for Elephants.  Maddie is the helpless female victim of her calculating husband (as is Marlena), Ellis is August, although his brutality takes a different form, and Angus is a more mature, more authoritative version of sweet Jacob.  Despite the similarities, or perhaps because of them, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it highly.

 

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

252 pages, read at home, July 2015

Sharp Objects

Gillian Flynn, my guilty pleasure – I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I devour these books as I do… but like a little junk food now and then, some gritty crime fiction can be  good for you.  I loved Gone Girl (the book not the movie), but that was mostly because of Flynn’s work with the unreliable narrator.  This book was pure horror… you’re drawn into an awful story and read frantically to the end to find out what happens.  The main character is Camille Preaker, a journalist from an under-read newspaper in Chicago, and recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital.  She is dispatched by her editor to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to write an investigative article on the murder of 2 little girls.  As she is sucked back into the vortex of the childhood and adolescent life she escaped when she left Wind Gap, the reader gets some insight into why Camille is the way she is, along with a gripping “whodunnit” tale.  A little predictable at parts, but with a nice twist at the end.

 

Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

179 pages, read at home, June 2015

Our Souls At NightIt was with great anticipation that I plucked this book off the shelf in Chapters the first night of the summer holidays, and paid a ridiculous $28.00 for a tiny, hardcover novel, because I had read several of Haruf’s other books last summer, and loved every one of them.  If you scroll down you’ll see my entries on BenedictionEventide, and Plainsong.  I have to say that overall, Our Souls at Night was a disappointment, compared to Haruf’s other novels. I found the 2 main characters (Louis and Addie – I had to look up her name, that’s how uninteresting I found her) to be one-dimensional and not very believable, as were the other characters – Addie’s son Gene and the townspeople of Holt.  It felt like Addie and Gene had rich stories to tell, but the novel never gets to them.  A disappointing read from one of my favourite authors, but not enough to turn me off him for good.

 Wreckage, by Michael Crummey

360 pages, fiction, read at home, May-June 2015

51JmUA-W5UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Wow… I can’t believe it took me 2 months to read this novel – symptomatic of the pace of May and June in the field of education, I suppose.  This book was loaned to me by a friend with whom I often exchange books, or thoughts about books…it was “fine”, I suppose – I wouldn’t recommend it as a must-read to anyone, and whether I took so long to read it because I found it dull, or I found it dull because I was taking so long to read it is a “chicken and egg” question to which I am not likely to find an answer.  It tells the story of Aloysius (Wish) Furey, a young Newfoundlander who travels the Maritimes with his buddy Hiram, running motion picture shows in the early days of WWII.  Wish falls in love with Mercedes (Sadie) Parsons, daughter of a local Protestant man, and Catholic Wish is firmly, if courteously, escorted out of the community and told to keep his distance.  He joins the British forces and ends up in a POW camp near Nagasaki, where he endures cruel treatment at the hands of Nishino.  I found Nishino’s character unrealistic – the descriptions of his early days in Canada are too mundane to justify the vicious monster he becomes when in a position of power in the Imperial Japanese army.  Also, the “resolution” to the conflict between Wish and Nishino is very dissatisfying, as is Wish’s explanation to Mercedes, 50 years later when she returns to the East Coast to spread the ashes of her American husband, of why he never sought her out when he returned from the war.  The book is filled with false starts – ideas that are full of promise, but undeveloped.

 

Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin

373 pages, fiction, read at home, April 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 1.59.33 PMPossibly the worst book I’ve read this year…long, tedious, dull… I slogged through 373 pages waiting for something, anything really, to happen… but it never did.  Why stick with it, you ask?  Force of habit – I can’t bear to give up on a book, no matter how much I’m not enjoying it.  Usually I’ll find some redeeming quality that makes it worth reading, but this wasn’t the case with Nora Webster.  It’s the story of a widow, raising her 2 young sons alone (she also has 2 grown daughters) in the backwater of south eastern Ireland…my husband loved it – evidently he found it easier to identify with – perhaps he would be equally bored if I recommended a tale written about every day life in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.  As I scroll through my entries of the past ten months… it gives me a little perspective – if only 1 out of every 15 books I read is a disappointment, that’s not a bad ratio!

 

 

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

316 pages, fiction, read at home, March 2015

51BpLHPnO0L._SL300_This story is told by a narrator whom, from the very beginning, the reader distrusts – why? Because Rachel Watson is a chronic alcoholic who suffers from extended blackouts – there are lengthy periods of time when she has absolutely no memory of what she has done or what has transpired, so how can she be relied upon to keep the reader informed?  The story is set in London, England.  Every morning, Rachel takes the train from the suburbs where she lives, to her job in Central London.  Every day the train slows as it passes a row of houses, and Rachel observes, from her seat on the train, a young couple who live in one of the houses.  Rachel invents a story about the couple, whom she names Jason and Jess, and imagines their life together, a happy life that Rachel wishes were her own.  Meanwhile, a real life story is taking place, with the real couple who live in that home (Scott and Megan), and eventually their story collides with Rachel’s.  I won’t write any more about the plot, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who chooses to read it, but this book had me gripped from the start.  I read it in less than a week, carrying it around the house with me on weekends and reading the last hundred pages in a frantic quest to figure out what on earth was going on.  The only book that manipulated me as a reader, with the same level of skill that Paula Hawkins demonstrates, was Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.  This is a great story, and will be appreciated by anyone who enjoyed the unreliable narrator in Gone Girl.

 

 

A Sudden Light, by Garth Stein

396 pages, fiction, read at home, March 2015

sudden-light-9781439187036_hr

Once again, I chose a book based on my experience with another book by the same author.  Garth Stein wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, one of my absolute favourites,  so when I  saw his name on the cover of A Sudden Light, I was drawn to it.  A quick read of the inside flap  confirmed for me that I wanted to read the story.   The book is set in the Pacific Northwest  (Seattle), in the childhood home of Jones Riddell.  Jones is bankrupt, his wife has left him, and  he has returned to his family home, with his 14-year old son Trevor,  to try to convince his aging  father to sell the property to developers.  Adult Trevor tells the story of his 15th summer in  flashbacks.  Trevor knows nothing of his family history; he has never met his grandfather or  aunt, never been to his father’s childhood home.  When he arrives in Riddell House (built in the early 1900’s by his great-great grandfather, timber baron Elijah Riddell), Trevor begins to have some strange experiences, including some supernatural encounters with the spirit of his great-grand-uncle Ben, who tries to share the family history with Trevor.  It’s an interesting story of a young boy coming to terms with his father’s struggles and failures, and the setting (a mansion built of ancient trees, filled with secret passages, unused staircases and hidden rooms) draws the reader in as you explore and discover the house and its secrets along with Trevor.

 

 

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

359 pages, historical fiction, read at home, March, 2015

I picked up this book because I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees, also by Sue Monk Kidd… choosing the-10-biggest-and-best-of-everything-from-2014-image-3books by author is my default when selecting a new book, and it worked for this one.  I didn’t realize, until reading Author’s Note at the end of the novel, that the book was based on the real-life story of sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke, 2 women born into the gentry class of Charleston, South Carolina, who fought tirelessly for the abolition of slavery in the US.  The story begins with Sarah’s 11th birthday, where she is given the “gift” of Hetty (Handful) Grimke – a young girl and daughter to one of the family’s many slaves.  Even at her young age, Sarah is horrified by slavery, and does not want to accept the “gift”, but her parents are insistent.  She and Hetty develop a relationship that is something like a friend, or a sister, but there is always a separation between them.  The story is told in alternating chapters that are narrated by Sarah and Handful, and spans the years 1803 to 1838, and describes the series of events by which each woman (Sarah, Handful, and Sarah’s baby sister Angelina, or Nina, as she is called)  comes into her own, and comes to know who she is, and what matters to her.  I regret not knowing the historical foundation before reading the story, as I think it would have made it even more compelling.  As it is, I’m motivated to learn more about the Grimke sisters and the work they did for the cause of abolition in the US in the 1800’s.

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

260 pages, fiction, read at home, February 2015

zevin_firky_hc

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the beautiful cover illustration on this book is what drew me to it in the first place, and then after reading the inside jacket cover, I was pretty sure that I would enjoy it.  It also had a recommendation on the cover from Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain, one of my all-time favourite books… and if he loved it, it must be good.

It tells the story of AJ Fikry, a young (in his late thirties) widower who owns a bookshop in a holiday town on Rhode Island.  After the loss of his wife AJ is very sad and reclusive, and finds no joy in anything.  Then one day he finds 2-year old Maya, sitting by herself on the floor of his bookshop, with a note from her mother telling AJ she is gone, and asking him to care for Maya.  He calls the police, and is prepared to turn her over to foster care, but the island community where he lives is difficult to reach, and AJ ends up caring for Maya for the weekend, during which time they start to become attached to one another.  He ends up adopting Maya.  The rest of the story is about how Maya helps AJ open himself up to life and love again.  One thing I found interesting about the book, and I may read it again just to see if I can make the connections, is that every chapter begins with an excerpt from a short story (AJ’s favourite type of fiction) – many of them I read in high school or university (Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter”, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart”) but there are others I’ve never read, and I’d like to read them all, (and re-read the others – it’s been a long time since I read some of those stories) and then see if I can understand the connection between the excerpts Zevin chose for each chapter, and the novel itself…. a summer project, maybe.

 

Wonder , by R.J. Palacio

wonder_2147363b

404 pages, fiction, read at home, January 2015

I love books that tell the same story from multiple perspectives, and that’s what Wonder does – it tells the story of August Pullman, a young boy with a cranio-facial deformity, who goes to school for the first time in his life when he’s 10 years old.  The story is told first by Auggie, then his sister Via, then other children at his school.    The version I bought has a “bonus” chapter, written from the point of view of Julian, the antagonist in the story, and I would recommend buying this version – Julian’s chapter is an important one if you are to understand the “bad guy” in the book – just like Auggie, there’s more to Julian than meets the eye.  I was interested enough in the story to go online line and learn a little about the condition that Auggie has (mandibulofacial dystosis) – I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to show a face to the world that is nothing like the person you are on the inside – I plan to read this book out loud to my Grade 4 class, as I’m sure they’ll be fascinated, and it will spark some great discussion.

 

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for J.K. Rowling)51zWmD6wlJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

455 pages, fiction (mystery/suspense), read at home, January 2015

This is the second novel featuring retired Special Forces investigator Cormoran Strike, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and amputee as a result of a road-side bomb when he was serving in Kabul.  Strike is a very likeable character, and I read the book mostly because I had gotten to “know” him in Galbraith’s first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, which I read last Christmas.  The story revolves around Strike’s attempts to prove Leonora Quine, widow of failed novelist Owen Quine, innocent of her husband’s murder.  I didn’t enjoy the story that much – I found it slow-moving, and at the end, when Strike finally figures out who the guilty party is, there’s no real satisfaction – it could have been any one of the cast of characters – it’s like the author just picked one and decided to write a chapter describing how it was done.  I much preferred Rowling’s other “adult” (i.e. not Harry Potter) fiction – The Casual Vacancy, in which she created characters almost as rich as those who populated the world of Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

 

I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak

messenger

498 pages, fiction, read in Florida, December 2014

I picked up this book at the recommendation of a friend, and was eager to read it because it is authored by the same person who wrote The Book Thief, one of my favourite novels.  It’s the story of a 21 year old cab driver, Ed Kennedy, who lives somewhere in Australia.  He’s a bit of a loser – nice guy, but no ambition and no plans.  One day, he stops a bank robber, and the guy tells him he’s “looking at a dead man.”  Ed starts receiving playing cards in the mail – Aces – each one with clues to addresses and people whose lives he can change for the better, with little acts of kindness and love.  He completes every assignment, delivers every “message”, and in the end meets the person behind it all – I won’t give it away, but I was suprised by the ending, and I think the key message in the book may be that we are all given a setting, and a “cast” of characters to work with, but eventually we become the authors of our own lives, our own stories.

 

The Bone Church, by Victoria DoughertyBone Church

308 pages, historical fiction, read at home Oct/Nov 2014

The book is told in 2 time periods:  1950’s in Western Europe, and 1939-1945 in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  It’s about a couple who fall in love (a Christian man and a Jewish woman), but are pursued by the Nazis.  Magdalena and Felix are captured and put on a train heading for a concentration camp, but the train breaks down and they escape. With the help of their Gypsy friend Shrut, they go into hiding.  In 1957 Felix is a Jesuit priest who helps people escape from Eastern Europe.  He goes back to rescue his wife and son (they were separated during an escape attempt, he never met his baby boy).  There are some odd elements to the story.  For example, Felix can hear, and sometimes see, people who have died, and they help him find his way when he’s in danger.

 

Benediction, by Kent Harufbenediction

258 pages, fiction, read at home, August 2014

Unlike Plainsong and Eventide, this book focuses on a smaller cast of characters, who are intricately woven together.  It follows the story of “Dad” Lewis, living at home during the final stages of his life, as his wife Mary and daughter Lorraine care for him.  Son Frank fled the small town scene, never to be heard from again.  The ending scene where “Dad” dies with his wife at his side was gut-wrenching and very, very moving.

 

 

 

Eventide, by Kent Harufeventide

300 pages, fiction, read at home, August 2014

This novel picks up the life stories of some of the characters in Plainsong, (The MacPheron Brothers and Victoria Rabidoux) and introduces others (Luther and Betty and their children Joy-Anne and Ritchie, Rose Tyler, their social worker and Raymond MacPheron’s first love, Hoyt Raines, Betty’s abusive uncle, DJ Kephart and the grandfather he cares for, and the neighbour girls, Dena and her sister, and their sad mother, grieving her husband’s departure.  Like Plainsong, the novel draws you into the characters’ lives – you read the book because you care what happens to these people.  It’s the kind of book that, when you’ve finished it, you feel slightly dissatisfied because you want to know what happens next to all the characters.

 

 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerrlight

530 pages, fiction, read at home in August 2014

This book follows the lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc, blind daughter of Daniel, key-master of the National Museum of Paris, and great niece of Etienne, recluse of St. Malo…and…Werner Pfennig, an orphan, conscripted into the Hitler Youth for his skill with radios.  Their stories intertwine when Etienne begins covert radio broadcasts for the French Resistance during the war, while Werner’s job is to triangulate the radio signals and lead the killer, Volkheimer, to the broadcasters.  A beautiful story of the strength of human connections to one another, especially in times of crisis.

 

 

 

Plainsong by Kent Harufplainsong

301 pages, fiction, read on the train home from Quebec City, July 2014

Interwoven tales of the inhabitants of Holt County – how they are all connected – Tom Guthrie and his two boys, Ike and Bobby, left by their wife/mother Ella, Maggie Jones, in love with Tom, Victoria Rabidoux, a teenage girl pregnant and thrown out of her home by her mother and taken in by two of my favourite fictional characters – the MacPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond.  I am eager to read Haruf’s next two books:  Eventide and Benediction

 

 

My Mother’s Secret9781475962574_COVER.indd, by J. L. Witterick

175 pages, Historical Fiction, read on the train to Quebec City, July 2014

This is a first-person narrative told from multiple perspectives about a mother and daughter living in Poland who hid 2 Jewish families and 1 defecting German soldier from the Nazis during World War II.  An uplifting story of human courage, strength and resilience, it inspires one to reach out to others.  My favourite quote is from the last page of the book:  “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” The book is based on the true story of Franciszka and Helena Halamajowa.

 

 

Dear American Airlinesairlines, by Jonathan Miles

180 pages, Memoir, read aboard The Norwegian Epic in July 2014.

This memoir is a first-person narrative told from the perspective of Bennie Ford, a recovering alcoholic, stuck in O’Hare Airport in Chicago – his cancelled flight means that he will miss the wedding of his estranged daughter, whom he has not seen since his wife took  her and left him when Stella (whom Bennie calls “Speck”) was a baby.  A tragic recounting of a life wasted, Bennie realizes how he came to be the sad, lonely man that he is now.  It is written as a letter of complaint to American Airlines.  It is sad, poignant, and hard to read.

 

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Orenda

487 pages, read en route to Rome, Italy in July 2014.

The main characters are Snow Falls, an Iroquois (Haudonosaunee) princess, and Bird, a Huron (Wendat) chief.  He kills her family during a raid, and takes her as his daughter, to replace the ones killed previously by the Iroquois.  Also central to the story is Father Christophe (a “crow” or Black Robe) -a Jesuit missionary priest sent to convert the “sauvages” of the new world.  The story chronicles the daily lives of the Wendat community, the growth of the Mission, and the raging conflict between tribes.  It is a slow-moving tale, brutally told.

 

 

 

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