And Six More...

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I enjoyed reading this little book, but I'm not as thrilled
with it as everyone else seems to be. I don't know if I
just wasn't in the mood or if I'm too dull to grasp the
deeper meaning, but honestly I found it not all that

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
I enjoyed this while I was reading it, but now I can't
remember anything about it. I may have read it too quickly, or at a time when I was pre-occupied with other things. Lots of people rate it highly, for me it just didn't stick.

Barometer Rising by Hugh MacLennan
I'm so glad I read this. It's historical fiction that centers around the 1917 explosion in Halifax Harbour when a heavily loaded munitions ship collided with another vessel. The story itself was just so-so, although I liked some of the characters and found myself caring what happened to them. The strength of this novel is in two things: its portrayal of Canada and her people in 1917 and its so-real-you-could-almost-feel-it description of the explosion. I'm a Maritimer, so of course I've seen the anniversary documentaries and read the articles, even read another novel set in the aftermath. But I've never read anything like this. I don't think I had any real idea how massive, how powerful it was or the extent and scope of the damage. The way he sets the stage for what's coming builds the tension until I almost didn't want to know. The first chapter is Sunday, then each day is another chapter. Thursday morning it happens. He's so smart in his telling of it that when you're reading it you hold your breath, you marvel as you watch what happens moment by moment. The earthquake it caused, the brutal air concussion, and the tidal wave were new to me, or at least this level of detail was. The effect those things had on the people, animals, buildings and land was nightmarish. I feel like I watched it in slow motion. If you're curious about what happened that day, read this. Any weak spots in the plot are more than compensated for by the way the author pulls you into this historical reality. It's more than a novel; it's an experience.

The Plague by Albert Camus
I put this off year after year until now just to discover it's really good. It's not the Hollywood style story about plague with all the blood and gore (there is a bit) and dramatic death scenes. Its not so much about the sick people (it is a little) as it is about the rest of the town and how people find different ways to cope with the chaos going on around them. The medical people, town leaders, church and business people, and all the folks who care for sick and dying family members have to find a way to get up every day and carry on. I would never have imagined it would be so engrossing. Well worth the read.  

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova's books allow us to share the experience of a person suffering a debilitating disease. This time it's ALS and the victim is a world famous pianist at the height of his career. We watch as he loses control of his body, and his life, piece by piece. It's hard to read, but I find her books fascinating for what they teach me. I wasn't terribly keen on the story this time, finding the characters rather flat and the writing not as good as her other work, but I'm glad I read it. I will keep reading them as long as she keeps writing them because I learn so much from them. I think my favourites are still Left Neglected and Still Alice, but I liked Inside the O'Briens as well. Love Anthony and Every Note Played are at the bottom of the list for me. I was interested to read that her purpose for these novels is more to create awareness and generate funding than to entertain. With that goal in mind, I say mission accomplished.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Loved this one. Lily is a young girl growing up on a peach farm in South Carolina with her abusive father and a black woman (the cook) named Rosaleen. Rosaleen is stubborn and feisty and when she insults some of the racist men in town she is beaten and locked up in jail. Lily breaks her out and they set out on a long walk that will lead them to a bee-keepers farm run by three sisters, two/thirds of whom welcome them in. As the connection between Lily's dead mother and the sisters comes to light, Lily and Rosaleen begin to heal, finding acceptance among kindred spirits . That may sound corny, but this book is not. It's well written, poignant, and funny. A strong story with vivid, eccentric characters. I feel like I stepped inside the time and place depicted as soon as I read the first page, and I had a hard time putting it down. Excellent.

A Few More...

Cruel and Usual Punishment by Nonie Darwish

This was hard to read because of the subject matter, but it was on my shelf for a very long time and needed to be either read or discarded, which I didn't feel I could do. I didn't find it particularly well written. It's quite emotional, but anyone living such experiences would be emotional in the telling of their story. There is some good information in here, and it is worth reading. 

Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan

I did not enjoy this much. The book was heavy on Joy Davidman's "finding herself", which included leaving her husband and children in America for months while she had her "me time" in England, even when they were struggling to make ends meet. It doesn't paint a very flattering picture of her. I was disappointed with other things too. When "The Inklings" met at their usual pub, we are frequently told about the wonderful conversations they had, the brilliant exchange of ideas and philosophies, but we are never allowed in. We are told they happened, then it moves on to the next scene. I also question whether Lewis actually gushed over Davidman's work as much as this book implies; it seems odd that such great writing wouldn't be better known. 

The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphries

A lovely surprise. I'm not sure what I expected but it wasn't this. It's a small, hard cover book that looks like an art or gift book, but each chapter tells a story. The Thames has frozen over 40 times in recorded history and there's a fictional story set in each of those times. They are quite short but every one of them quickly grabs your attention and takes you to that time and place. The characters are vivid and the plots are wonderfully imaginative. Highly recommend.

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

After watching Downton Abbey and reading others in the upstairs/downstairs genre, I found this one a bit flat. It is an actual, true story, which, if I'd read it first, I might have loved. As it is I didn't enjoy the writing and found myself ambivalent about the girl who is telling her story. I'm probably just jaded from all the glitz and glamour and drama - oh the drama - of the fictional stories.   

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Loved it. Every time I read Dickens, I'm struck again by the timelessness of his tales. His books will never finish being relevant because basic human nature doesn't change. His stories are sentimental, but you can't help admiring his "good" characters. They may be too perfect, but they always leave me with some noble virtue to aspire to. His evil characters may be too thoroughly evil, but it's encouraging to see all that vileness bound up in one character and then see him get his comeuppance in the end. I always come away from his books understanding better how kindness can change people, both the giving and the receiving of it, and how selfishness is equally damaging to both the giver and the receiver. And besides all of that, you get a great story and Dickens' unvarnished look at the social problems of his time. But my favourite thing of all is his tone. Call it sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek, wry or what you will, I love it and it's what keeps me coming back. 

I apologize for the lack of book cover pictures. I tried to use them, but they simply won't stay where I put them. When I get the post looking just right, I go to preview and see massive white spaces everywhere and the jpegs all over the place. I've never had this much trouble getting it to work before, but it was impossible today so I gave up. Words will have to do. 

An Unexpected Loss, and the First Books of 2019

I began the new year eagerly getting organized and setting new goals, then Jan 26th came, and in that one day my whole world changed. That morning my sister was out visiting; by late that evening, she had left us. Shortness of breath turned into an ambulance ride, that turned into a team of doctors scrambling to find out what was happening to her, and that led to one of them coming to tell us they'd been unable to save her. She'd had a massive blood clot in her lungs and she was gone. Just gone. I'm still trying to get my head around that. I made arrangements, stood beside the urn her ashes were in, helped clean out her apartment, and spent months tying up all the loose ends of her life, and still I can't believe she's gone. I don't know how long the denial stage of grief lasts, but I seem to be stuck in it. It just seems impossible, ludicrous even, to think that she's not here, that she won't be at family get-togethers, that I can't talk with her on fb messenger, that I won't be buying her a birthday gift in September. I feel almost angry when I think how stupid it all is. This can't be true. It cannot really be happening.

Needless to say, I haven't done anything about posting. I couldn't read for a while, couldn't make sense of the words or even remember what I had just read. After a couple of weeks I was able to get back at it a little, but I'm not up to writing much. I'll just list the books I've read so far this year with a line or two about why I liked or didn't like them.

Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson
A story about a man who drove a school bus transporting special needs kids for a year. It was inspiring how he learned to relate to each student on their own terms. It was also funny at times, and overall a good read.

Do You Realize? by Kevin H. Kuhn
This was an unusual novel about a man who receives a watch that will let him travel back in time, but only 10 times. It get's complicated when he attempts to fix things in the past. It's part fantasy and part philosophy. It was much better than I'm making it sound. I liked it.

Through the Children's Gate by Adam Gopnik
A memoir about Gopnik and his family experiencing life in New York City. Toward the end it seemed more like a series of essays than a memoir, but it was interesting, and well written.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
Russell and her husband, who works for the Lego company, moved to Denmark where he would work at their head office for a year. I love travel books but this one didn't appeal to me. She interviewed a lot of people about their level of happiness, but I was looking for descriptions of the countryside and more about Danish culture. All I got from it is that I no longer have any desire to go to Denmark.

To be continued...