Friday Blog Hop Sept 30 - Oct 3

Wow I had no idea how long it had been since I'd taken part in the blog hop. I think it's such a great idea and when I began this blog it introduced me to dozens of other book blogs and hundreds of great books. It got me started and helped me get to know some people I would never have connected with otherwise. I'm very grateful for all the work Jennifer at Crazy-For-Books  puts into the hop; it's a great service she performs for all of us.

Each week Jennifer includes a question in her post that we are to discuss in our own Friday Blog Hop posts. This week's question is "In honor of Banned Books Week what is your favorite "banned or frequently challenged" book?" I had no idea there was such a thing as "Banned Books Week" and I had to check out her lists of banned books to even know what I had to choose from. One of the books on the list was "The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time" by Mark Haddon which was apparently banned from a summer reading program somewhere in Michigan in 2010 after parents complained about the "foul language".

I read this book last year and found it profoundly moving. Written from the viewpoint of an autistic boy who is investigating the death of a neighbour's dog, it put me inside an autistic person's mind. I experienced his thought processes and gained an understanding of the disease and how it affects people that has literally changed the way I look at people. It's one of those rare books that made a real difference in my life.

I loved the book. I didn't enjoy the swearing and I wish all books were written without it. I wouldn't have given it to my children to read before they were adults, but still, I loved the book. I wouldn't presume to tell other adults what is right or wrong for them to read and I wouldn't want anyone trying to tell me either. I don't think banning books is the solution to much of anything. There may be some level of evil so destructive that I'd agree to banning books that spewed it's venom, but this one certainly isn't it. On the other hand I think that most people who object to certain books believe they're doing the right thing. Of course there are some control freaks who want to run everybody's lives; I just don't think that the majority of parents who express concern are trying to do anything but protect their children, and that is their job.

Hop on over to Crazy-for-Books and check out some of the other books that have been banned at one time or another. While you're there visit some of the other blogs listed to get some great reading recommendations.

Have a great weekend!


Saltsea by David Helwig

The Saltsea is a hotel set on the shores of Prince Edward Island, though there are few references to the place other than a mention of the red mud so it could just as well have been set on any other island. The hotel was once the summer home of a wealthy family whose daughter and grand-daughter play major roles in this story. I figured that with a combination of beach, old hotel and interesting guests I couldn't really lose; I had to like this one.

And it was very promising in the beginning. I was enjoying the writing and characters and thinking how great it was to be once more reading something I didn't want to put down. Then the language deteriorated, the plot took a nosedive and the characters began to get weird until, in the last two chapters, they all just sort of lost their minds, doing things their previous behavior had never even hinted at. I read in a state of stunned confusion as the story descended into the dark underside of the characters lives. There was barely anyone left to like by the end.

Giving credit where credit where credit is due, I will say the authour did a bang-up job of surprising me. I only wish some of the surprises hadn't been unpleasant. By the time I turned the last page most of the characters were annoying at best, disgusting at worst.

I did enjoy some of the writing and found passages I thought particularly meaningful, like these ones...

"It was beautiful, and then gradually it wasn't, and maybe that was the way things would always be."

"...without Eileen to approve or disapprove he wasn't sure what any of his words or actions meant."

"...objectivity was going out of fashion everywhere, the world an apotheosis of vagueness and mood."

I truly wanted to like this book but I find myself in serious need of a story without despair, and this sure wasn't it. Surely there are still authours who can write well, tell a good story, create realistic characters and do it all without a lot of cursing, violence and raunchiness. I know I'm inviting derision here, but seriously aren't there any pleasant books anymore? I loved The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and would like to find more like them. I guess it's a comfort read I'm looking for, but not fluff. I really don't want fluff. 

So please, I'm open to suggestions if you have any. Send lots; I'd love to have a long list of gentle books to choose from for those times when more serious reading leaves me somewhat disenchanted. I patiently, impatiently, eagerly await your recommendations.

"Cool Water"

Cool Water by Dianne Warren

This was one of those books that left me wondering whether or not I liked it. I didn't love it, and I didn't hate it, I was simply disappointed with it. It kept me entertained well enough for a couple of days but I don't expect to remember the plot or even the characters very long.

There are five stories taking place simultaneously. The first one is about Lee, the adopted son of a farmer and his wife who died and left the property to him. Lee is trying to run the farm on his own but most of the story we are told about him is played out as he rides a stray horse many miles away from the farm and back again.

Then there are the Shoenfield brothers, Ed and Willard. Willard had lived with Ed and Ed's wife Marion, and since his brother's death Willard has lived with the fear that Marion would move away leaving him alone.

Blaine and Vicky Dolson have six children and serious financial problems. Vicky tries to keep up with all that raising six kids entails; Blaine becomes more and more frustrated as the financial pressures mount and their relationship begins to feel the strain.

Next is Norval and Lila Birch. He is the bank manager, she is a control freak and their eighteen year old daughter, Rachelle, is pregnant and planning her wedding.

The fifth story is about a truck driver, Hank Trass and his wife, Lynn, who runs the Oasis Restaurant. Lynn suspects Hank is not faithful to her and she's taking her anger out on the restaurant staff.

These people all live in and around the small town of Juliet in the Canadian prairies. They all know each other and sometimes their paths cross in the course of the story but I thought this felt more like a series of short stories with overlapping characters than a cohesive novel. There isn't a very clear plot line running from start to finish. I think if I put more thought into Cool Water I would see more of what the authour intended, but I just can't summon up enough interest and I have other books calling my name.

I think the problem for me is that there are too many stories to deal with effectively in the 328 pages given to them. The characters themselves are well constructed and authentic but the book ended just as I was getting involved. I'd have liked it more if there had been fewer stories told in more depth.

Having said all that I still recommend the book, because it's well written with good characters. You might love it as much as others have. I wish I had, and I  hope you do.

"The Factory Voice"

The Factory Voice by Jeanette Lynes

This is the story of four women, Audrey, Muriel, Ruby and Florence, all of whom work at Fort William Aviation, a military aircraft factory in Ontario. The year is 1941 and women are filling the jobs left vacant by the men who have gone off to war.

These women couldn't be more different in situation and personality. The authour has created fresh, believable characters as unique as any you would find in real life. These are the kind of people who work their way into your head and stay there long after you turn the last page of the book. I'm always impressed when an authour can do that - we've all read lots who can't - especially in a debut novel as this one is.

Audrey is 16 and, well.....zippy. She's eager to grow up and get a job and start living her life. Speaking pretty much every thought that crosses her mind, she blows into the factory like a mini-hurricane and endears herself to almost everyone.

Ruby is a typist and writer of the employee newsletter "The Factory Voice". Ruby has big dreams and can't wait for the day when she can put this drudgery and all these sad little people behind her. She knows she is meant for something better.

Muriel is 36 years old, has overcome polio, earned herself a Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering and is starting a new job as Chief Engineer at the plant. She's a more complex character than some of the others and is my favorite. I'd like to read more about her.

The fourth woman is Florence. She's been at the factory for five weeks, but remains on probation because she has a German last name. The other workers wear yellow head scarves; those on probation wear red and Florence hates sticking out in the crowd. Awkward and uncomfortable around people, she just wants to be left alone to do her job.

Around these four is told a story that has something for everyone. Drama, romance, intrigue, a little heartbreak and a little victory. I liked this book, even if a couple of characters made me wanna smack'em sometimes. It's a good story - different, interesting, worth reading. And isn't that just a great cover?


Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

The title of this book comes from a line in a song called "Farewell To Nova Scotia":
"When I am far away on the briny ocean tossed
Will you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me?"
The lyrics and the Celtic lilt of in the music stir up a sadness, a longing for something better that perfectly describes the tone of this book.

The book opens with Seraphina Sullivan, a troubled 21 year old from rural Nova Scotia, fleeing - in wedding dress, veil and high heels - from the church in which she was about to get married. She bolts from the church leaving pieces of her gown in the door, crying and laughing, runs through the town and all the way out a country road to her parents home. She takes refuge in an outhouse, one of several that her father has collected and placed around the property.

From there, "Serrie" looks back over her life - her stint in rehab, her sudden and unexplained flight to England, and the time she spent in an asylum - trying to figure out how she got to this point in her life. We learn about her mother and brother, her gentle father, her grandmother, a practical woman with a sometimes scornful and always pointed way of sharing her opinion (my favorite character in this book), and her best friends Dearie and Elizabeth. The characters are all as quirky and hard to fathom as real people and are what make this book tick, far more than the plot.

On the cover of my library copy a reviewer says this book is "a wildly energetic debut" and another calls it "astonishing" and "gorgeously fun". I didn't find it wild or energetic, astonishing or even that much fun, but I did the like beautiful Nova Scotia setting and the wonderfully flawed, so very human characters. I didn't like some of the language, the fairly creepy cover (mine was somewhat more weird than the one in the picture) or the way the book ended. Actually it didn't feel like an ending to me at all. I was left thinking "Ok. So then what?".

So...I liked "Heave" to a point, but not enough to recommend it. I chose it because other reviewers talked about the rural N.S. landscape and the endearing small town characters; it just turned out to be a little grittier than I'd expected. It certainly has it's good points; it just wasn't what I was looking for.  


Tipperary by Frank Delaney

Charles O'Brien is nine years old when he witnesses a neighboring Irish family being evicted from their home and the house being pulled down as mother, father and three young children run toward the safety of the forest with only the clothes on their backs. The evicted family and their ancestors had worked the surrounding fields for hundreds of years, and the father had lost a leg while a soldier in the King's army, but none of that mattered to the ruling English. What Charles saw that day haunted him for the rest of his days. At his father's urging he wrote the story down and it became the first chapter in what he called his "History".

This is a novel and Charles O'Brien is a fictional character but you will meet some real people in these pages as Charles crosses paths with such well known names as Oscar Wilde, William B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. And behind all of them, behind his training and career as a healer, his persuit of a woman who felt nothing for him but scorn, and the reconstruction project of a castle he had always dreamed of owning is the story of Ireland struggling for independence; Ireland's story is as much a part of this book as Charles'.

The solid, detailed writing is a pleasure to read; the story has lots of twists and turns and brings to vibrant life a period of history that I never get tired of reading. I did find it just a little slow getting started, but I make exceptions for Ireland and it had so much going for it I stayed with it and in the end found it a very satisfying read.

I like the way this book is structured. Sections of Charles "history" alternate with the voice of a present day narrator, entries from Charles' mother's journal and letters written by the woman he falls in love with. There are ten chapters, each separated into short segments that give the reader plenty of places to stop, or maybe make it easier to read just one more section...or two...

Some of my favorite lines from the book...

"'A thing doesn't have to be true', he said, 'for a person to get joy out of it;
what it has to be is not evil or malicious'".

"...he had been born with the poetic advantage of living in a beautiful land."

"Revolutions are born when the drudgery of life aches from 
serving the grandeur on the hill."

I have no idea where or when I got this book, but I recently found another Frank Delaney novel on my book shelf as well. It's about three times the size of Tipperary so I'll have to put it off for a while, but it looks like a great read for a long, cold Maritime winter.

Next up: Heave by Christy Ann Conlin