Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

   I had read this book in 2009 and was fascinated by this story of the German occupation of the Guernsey Island during the second world war.
  Since the book was chosen for our library book club and I was leading the discussion, I re-read the book very carefully and appreciated it even more.
  There were individual stories of several people on the island- fiction in this case. The author showed how people can surmount terrible situations if they can keep a sense of humour.  Quote: "Humour is the best way to make the unbearable bearable".
  The 'literary' aspect of the story was also interesting and the book club really enjoyed this book.
  Although this is a fiction story, you can learn a lot about history and I was surprised about the evacuation of the children from the island to England.  And so, I researched 'child migrations' and found it shocking and interesting.
 I remembered that I had read a very good book called "Orphan Train" about moving 200,000 children from New York City and other Eastern U.S cities across the United States to find homes. This also was a fiction book, based on facts.

  In Canada there were 100,000 children brought from England between 1860 and 1934.  Many were not orphans but because of sickness, poverty, or the death of one parent, the families could not support them.

I was reminded of "Orphan at my Door" by Jean Little that I read many years ago.  That was a diary of a 'home child'.

And so I picked up another biography of a home child, written for children.  "Charlie: A Home Child's Life in Canada" was written by Charlie's daughter.  
   It was just what I needed at the moment.  A true story of a home child who was brought to Canada by Dr. Thomas Bernardo, a doctor and preacher in London.  There has been controversy about those homes so I was interested in reading about the experience of Charlie Harvey.
  It is so interesting how you can get on a subject and just find the right books to read to satisfy your curiosity.
  I cannot imagine sending these young children so far away, knowing that you may never see them again.  But it did seem like a solution for the many homeless children living on the streets of London and other cities. This book shows how some of the children were treated badly but others found a good life here.
  Perhaps I have a special interest in 'orphans' because my father spent his childhood in an orphanage when his father became sick and his mother could not support them.  And my husband spent most of his childhood in foster care.
  We believe it is a 'right' for children to have a home with their family, but hundreds of thousands of children over the years have not had this opportunity.

Monday, 20 June 2016

"A Man Called Ove" by Fredrick Backman

   As the heading on my blog explains, I don't always see a book the same way as others do.  And that is apparent with this book.                Several of my friends really loved it. On Goodreads, there were 63,494 reviews with an average 4.31 rating.
   Ove is a curmudgeon who has lost his wife and his job.  He is only 59, but seems much older. 
  Quote: "Ove had been a grumpy old man since he started elementary school. He believed so strongly in things- justice and fair play and hard work and a world where right just had to be right". 
   I rather enjoyed his backstory, but the actual story was supposed to be funny but was so dark and slap-stick - falling off ladders, hitting people with the door.
  To be honest, I feel like a curmudgeon talking about this book, because I really didn't enjoy it.  I read parts of it to my husband and he laughed.  So, it is just me.  Can a woman be a curmudgeon?
  My friend Penny wrote a 'proper review'.  Click here to read it.

   The author, Fredrick Backman is Swedish and has written another book called "My Grandmother Asked Me To tell you She's Sorry".  Both of these books have sold very well. 
   Carol, on the blog "Giraffe Dreams" believes that Swedish novels are 'unique and quirky'.  She writes about the novel "The 100-year-old-man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared".  I didn't really appreciate that book either.  I'm just a curmudgeon!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Richard B.Wright

Richard B.Wright
   Richard Wright has written fifteen books.  I had already read two of them- "Clara Callan" and "October".  I wasn't terribly fond of either of them, so I am not sure why I thought that I should read his new book.

   "Clara Callan" is about two sisters- Clara and Nora. They were born in a small town in Canada.  Nora moved to New York and became a soap-opera star, while Clara stayed in the small town.  The focus of the book is the bond between sisters.
A librarian that I knew said that "Clara Callan" was her favourite all-time book.  It didn't click with me.

   In "October", James Hillyer traveled from Canada to England to visit his daughter, Susan, who had been diagnosed with cancer.  While there, he encountered Gabriel Fontaine, a man he knew from one summer when the two men were teenagers in Perce, Quebec. Gabriel was dying of cancer and asked James to accompany him to Switzerland where he had arranged to be euthanized.  These events caused James to recollect that summer sixty years in the past, and to ruminate on life and relationships and death.  I liked this book better than "Clara Callan" and found it an enjoyable read.

             And so, the new book: "Nightfall"
Beautiful cover.

   Goodreads calls this 'a love story for the elderly'.  Oh, yes, that's why I decided to read it!

   Well, Richard Wright picked up the story of James Hillyer when he was 76.  There were passages repeated from "October" to show how James had met Odette one summer when they were 14.  

   In this book, James' daughter has died and James is despondent.  Then he remembered Odette and searched for her.  So, yes it is a love story.  But I did not find it nearly as fascinating as this blurb in Goodreads describing it: 

"Nightfall skillfully captures the way in which our past is ever-present in our minds as we grow older, casting its spell of lost loves and the innocent joys of youth over the realities of aging and death. The novel is skillfully grounded in observation, propelled by unforgettable characters, and filled with wisdom about young love and old love.  Drawing on the author's profound understanding of the intimate bonds between men and women, Nightfall is classic Richard B. Wright".
Wouldn't that write-up convince you to read the book?

Monday, 13 June 2016

"Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande

The subtitle of this book is: Medicine and What Matters in the End
   It addresses end of life issues and was recommended to me by my friend, Judy, who is involved with care of her parents and aunt.
   The author is a surgeon who is searching for the best care for people at the end of their lives.  Medicine has focussed on 'fixing' people and often will offer more and more 'fixing'. Even when they say there is nothing more they can do, there usually is more- operations, tubes, experimental drugs.  But this doctor is evaluating when it is wise to 'fix' and when it is not.
Quote: "We pay doctors to give chemotherapy and to do surgery but not to take the time required to sort out when to do so is unwise".
  These issues are good to discuss long before decisions need to be made.  So my husband and I have been discussing them and I knew that he would relate to this military quote:
"The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task.  Death is the enemy.  But the enemy has superior forces.  Eventually, it wins.  And in a war that you cannot win, you don't want a general  who fights to the point of total annihilation.  You don't want Custer.  You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can't, someone who understands that the damage is greatest if all you do is battle to the bitter end."

Atul Gawande

Wouldn't we all like a doctor like this!  One who spends a lot of time with patients and their families, when they have really tough decisions to make. Some doctors give instructions about what must be done. Others give the patient oodles and oodles of information and leave them to sort it out.  But a good doctor will spend time finding out what makes life valuable to the patient and how to support those interests and values to the end.

"The ultimate is not a good death but a good life- to the very end."

   The Canadian government is presently discussing end of life issues.  This book gives you much to think about.  The author addresses the whole spectrum of nursing homes, paliative care and hospices.
"Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy- the freedom- to be the authors of our lives.  This is the very marrow of being human".

Friday, 10 June 2016

"Aquarium" by David Vann

   I was excited to read this book because my granddaughter works in an aquarium and I thought I might be able to recommend this book to her. 
  I was very quickly drawn into the story of a 12-year-old girl, Caitlin,  visiting the aquarium every day after school to wait for her mother to pick her up after work.   Caitlin is fascinated by all the sea creatures and finds an elderly man there that loves to chat with her about the animals.  They develop a close relationship.
  The book at this point has pictures and information about sea creatures, like the ghost pipefish- very interesting critters.  I was loving this book when it took a turn for the worse and never recovered.
  This man in the aquarium turns out to be Caitlin's grandfather- the father of Caitlin's mother Sheri.  Caitlin lived with her mother and had never known about any other family members.
   Well, Caitlin's mother Sheri was furious to see this man who had left her and her mother when Sheri was a teenager and her mother was dying of cancer.  
   The old man was now filled with regret and apologies, AND he was wealthy.  But Sheri went on a rampage with Caitlin.  Sheri decided to teach Caitlin what it was like for her when her father left.  She pretends to be her dying mother and makes Caitlin care for her every physical need- dressing, feeding, cleaning messes, bathing.  It is disgusting and the story never recovers.
   Many people appreciated this as a story of a dysfunctional family. I wanted to continue the story of the young girl and old man wandering through the aquarium learning about the fish.  
  The book blurb says, "Relentless and heartbreaking, primal and redemptive."
   I will not be recommending this book to my granddaughter or anyone else. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Chris Bohjalian

   In the late 1990's Oprah had a book club and she talked about Chris Bohjalian's "Midwives".  I was interested in reading this book at that time because my children were having babies, sometimes using midwives.
   The book centred on a midwife on trial and I really enjoyed the book.  It was well-written and kept my interest.

   This month, one of my book clubs has chosen another book by Chris Bohjalian- "The Sandcastle Girls". 
    It turns out that this book is Chris' fourteenth novel.  Still good writing.  But this book did not catch my interest.  Perhaps it was the subject matter- the Armenian genocide.  It is advertised as a 'story of love and war'.  Actually, I just read a story of love and war- "The Lost Wife" and I thought it was difficult to read about the brutality of the holocaust.  Well, I found this book more difficult.  Perhaps I have reached my limit of sadness.  Perhaps this book focused too much on the brutality.  Or perhaps it was the flipping back and forth from Syria in 1915 to New York in 2012.  It was definitely too heavy for reading in this beautiful spring weather.
   In 20 years of book clubs, I have only refused to read one book. So I did read this book, but skimmed through some of the difficult parts.  My commitment to book clubs causes a dilemma at times. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Change in perspective

I love checking my daily 'thought for the day'.

"A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points."
Alan Kay, computer scientist (b. 17 May 1940) 

   I have realized that this is important for me in a novel.  I am most interested in reading about growth and change.  I think most people are frustrated with a story where the characters never learn from their mistakes.  They are not open to change.
  I have written about my thrill at reading "The Hero's Walk", where a man whose heart was hardened against his daughter, changes his perspective.  You can check out "The Hero's Walk" here.