Harry's Trees, Moonlight Over Paris & Kiss My Asterisk

 Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen

This is the story of three people who have suffered great loss in their lives and who, in each other, find their way through grief to happiness again. Harry's two favourite things in life are his wife, Beth, and trees. When he loses Beth in a bizarre accident, he heads for a section of forest he's familiar with through his work with the forestry service, and is found there, injured, by the recently widowed Amanda and her daughter, Oriana. Oriana thinks Harry has been sent into their lives by her father, whose spirit she believes to be now embodied in a red-tailed hawk that keeps showing up at crucial times. She convinces her mother to let Harry stay in Oriana's tree house for a couple of weeks, and when a legal settlement brings Harry a significant amount of money that he doesn't want, they hatch a furtive plot to be rid of it. Things get complicated when Harry's brother, Wolf, who lives up to his name and fiercely believes he's entitled to the money, comes after him. Add to that a smarmy real estate agent who wants to take advantage of Amanda's financial woes to foreclose on her house and you have the makings of quite a story, with a little adventure, a bit of fairy tale magic, and, of course, a romance. It's sweet, but not sappy. The characters, most of them, feel real and so does their grief, though Harry's brother and the real estate agent are a bit cartoonish. It's an appealing story and worth the read.

Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

This was pretty good. The title seems trite and hasn't much to do with the story, other than it is set in Paris, but the characters are interesting and the plot, though the end was predictable, kept me wondering what was coming next. There's something about this story that resonated with me. There’s no reason why it should: I’ve never been to Paris and certainly never lived the lifestyles described here. Maybe it was the reader's performance; she made every character likable, not that I want every character in a book to be likable, but again, there's just something about this one. I think the word I’m looking for is lovely; it was a lovely story. With a pleasant setting, an engaging plot, and charming characters, it offered exactly the escape from reality I was looking for. 

Kiss My Asterisk, a Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar  by Jenny Baranick

If you're looking for a quick refresher on punctuation and grammar, but don't want a dry text book full of obscure rules and their exceptions, you will like this. It covers the basics: when to use commas and semi-colons, when to spell out numbers or use numerals, when to capitalize and when not to capitalize, etc. It's called a Feisty Guide because it's full of attitude and innuendo, nothing at all like your prim and proper high school English teacher. It's fun, if a little over the top with the sex talk - not dirty, but not subtle either: high school information, junior high humour.   


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Another stellar novel from this excellent author. This was in fact her first novel; it is only "another" to me as I'm coming to it after several others.                                  

Lucille and her sister Ruthie get dropped off at their grandmother's house, then watch as their mother drives away, never to be seen again. Five years later they are put into the care of two prim, elderly ladies, for whom the responsibility soon proves to be too much, leading to their mother's younger sister, Sylvie, coming to "keep house" for them. Sylvie, long a drifter, doesn't easily adapt to staying in one place or even living within walls or under a roof, choosing some nights to sleep in the car or outside in the grass. She feeds them, barely, but is careless about the house, leaving it to deteriorate around them. In time Lucille rejects this lifestyle, wanting normalcy and security, but Ruthie begins to understand Sylvie and her need to be untethered. When local authorities question whether Ruthie is being properly cared for, Sylvie makes an effort, cleaning up the house and answering all their questions, but it is of no use. They are coming to take Ruthie away...   

Robinson writes some of the most poetic prose I've ever read. She tells of life's hard things with words that infuse light and air into them, making them feel less tragic. I've never read any other author who can do this. The story itself is profoundly moving, but the stunning way she uses language to tell it makes it something more, something that soars above story-telling, yet also plunges you deep into the world she's creating. It's exhilarating, and comforting at the same time. Read it slowly, so you can take in every rich sentence. 

I will remember this book for its beautiful sadness, a sadness not disheartening but giving a kind of comfort and not without hope. This is my fourth of Marilynne Robinson's books, two of which, and now three, have made it to my all time favourites list. I can honestly say of these books: they make my life better.   

If you still aren't convinced, here are a few quotes to tempt you:

“She conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting.”

“Every sorrow suggests a thousand songs, and every song recalls a thousand sorrows, and so they are infinite in number, and all the same.”

“Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world's true workings. The nerves and the brain are tricked, and one is left with dreams that these specters loose their hands from ours and walk away, the curve of the back and the swing of the coat so familiar as to imply that they should be permanent fixtures of the world, when in fact nothing is more perishable.”