THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

THE PARCEL

ANOSH IRANI

“I am reviled and revered, deemed to have been blessed, and cursed, with sacred powers.” Madhu is a eunuch, a hijra, a third sex living in a community of hijras. Once she was the crown jewel of the brothel.  Her “arsehole,” she recalls, “was a cash crop.” Now at 40 she begs on the street. One day Madhu receives a call from Padma Madam, the most feared brothel owner in the district: a “parcel” has arrived – a young girl from Nepal, betrayed and trafficked by her aunt -“And the truth was a ten year old girl had been sold into slavery.” And Madhu must prepare her for her future of prostitution. Madhu took pride of opening the parcel gently much differently than the pimps would do, though the parcel was still kept in a cage.

“Born and bred to mortify,” Madhu is a breathtaking figure, admirable despite that fact that the “very things that made one human – love, hope, health – had been ripped from her calmly and precisely, the way a syringe extracted blood.”  The Parcel is not an easy read but it does grip you by the heart and squeeze.

 

HAG-SEED

hag-seedMARGARET ATWOOD

A play within a play has become a cliche but our beloved Margaret has switched it to a play within a novel to present us with this wonderfully playful book based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Felix is untimely thrust from his position as artistic director of a Canadian theatre festival by a rival just at the moment when he was about to unleash his greatest creation upon the world – an ambitious production of The Tempest. He retires from public life to a cave-like dwelling to plan retribution and redemption. Meanwhile he accepts a job teaching literacy in a correctional facility where he has the prisoners stage the Bard’s plays, and literacy rates do go up. All regular swearing is banned during rehearsals. They may only use the curse words Shakespeare has used in that play. “Toads, beetles, bats light on you. Filth as thou art. Abhorr’ed slave. The red plague rid you. Hag-seed. All the infections that the sun sucks up…” Margaret must have had great fun write this nove.

imgresDon’t miss this delightful gem.

THE EDUCATION OF OF AUGIE MERASTY: A Residential School Memoir

JOSEPH AUGUSTE MERASTY with David Carpentered

Anyone interested in truth and reconciliation with First Nations people should read this book. “When I was at that school, it seemed always to be winter time.” One winter when Augie was 11 or 12, he and another boy were forced to retrace their steps 20 miles across the lake and into the wild, by themselves, in the extreme cold, in search of the two mittens they’d lost. Out there alone, as the temperatures plummeted, the boys’ fright was only exasperated when they came across fresh wolf tracks and imagined having to fend off a pack with nothing but sticks. When they found all trace of the lost mittens erased by the blowing wind, they returned to school to admit their failure to Sister St. Mercy. “We, of course, got the strap, twenty strokes on both hands.” It wasn’t just that physical and sexual abuse occurred over and over again, but the school’s hypocrisy of students subsisting on “rotten porridge and dry bread” while Brothers and Sisters of the church feasted on roast chicken and cake.

The students were just kids, but doing the things that kids do—whispering, poking each other in the ribs, or laughing when the livestock on the property mated—resulted in regular, furious punishments out-of-scale with the perceived infraction: getting the strap, being beaten with a hose, or, in Brother Lepeigne’s hands, being forced to fight with another misbehaving boy while the other students gathered round in a circle. Once, when Augie hit a Brother with a bean from a slingshot as a prank, the schoolmaster punished him “with the strap, beaten with fists to the face, and a foot to the ribs. I will never forget how it hurt”

Definitely a must read.

ARKWRIGHT

ALLEN STEELEark

Nathan Arkwright is a wildly successful sci-fi writer: stories, novels, series, tv show, movies. At the end of his life, with some of his cronies set up a foundation dedicated to space exploration and space colonization. They did this by investing in tech companies that were working on technologies that would be useful in their field. Because this takes generations the book jumps, sometimes awkwardly, multiple years, multiple times. Eventually, the interstellar ship, the Galactique, launches with eggs and sperm and robots to raise them and teach them when they were born. But first terra forming had to be done on a planet that could support human life but was not ready. Genesis plants were seeded to create an oxygen rich atmosphere. The oceans and lands were seeded with plants and animals.

Arkwright is an easy read, feel good science fiction novel. I enjoyed it.

THE DOUGLAS NOTEBOOKS: A Fable

Christine Eddiedouglas

This sparse and concisely written novel is a jewel. It is almost fairy tale like but there are no happily ever after endings. The fable begins with a wealthy family of black-market war profiteers. The youngest son, Romain is out of sync with the rest of the rest of the family who end up mocking and ignoring him. Eventually he leaves to become a hermit in the forest far from the family estate. Around the same time and area Elena stands up to her abusive, drunken father and flees for her safety. She finds refuge by becoming a natural healer’s apprentice. While gathering herbs in the forest she hears beautiful music and discovers Romain playing his Clarinet. It is all about relationships. The forest cradles and protects their love but only for so long.

Read this book!

A MAN CALLED OVE

oveFREDRIK BACKMAN

Ove was born a curmudgeon. x. “Ove is fifty-nine. He drives a Saab. He’s the kind of man who points at people he doesn’t like the look of, as if they were burglars and his forefinger a policeman’s torch.” Sweet and lively Sonja became his wife and balanced his pessimism with optimism and warmth. But when she dies he is thrown into a major depression and considers suicide. But every time he tries to kill himself, a neighbour interrupts him, forcing Ove to interact with the world and think about life. Gradually we become aware that under the grumpy persona lies a heart of gold. Funny and smart Ove is a heart warming story.

Backman’s second book, My Grandmother Ask Me to Say She’s Sorry, is actually better but both are worth reading.

MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES

my grFREDRIK BACKMAN

Elsa has the most fabulous granny. Granny is her superhero; “Every seven year old deserves a superhero.” Granny has created myths and fairy tales for Elsa.“… Miamas is Granny and Elsa’s favourite kingdom, because there storytelling is considered the noblest profession of all. The currency is imagination; instead of buying something with coins, you buy it with a good story. Libraries aren’t known as libraries but as “banks,” and every fairy tale is worth a fortune.”

They have there own mystical language only the two of them speak. Granny sends Elsa on quests and adventures. Best of all Granny is a fierce warrior when it comes to protecting her granddaughter. Granny has been telling fairy tales for as long as Elsa can remember. In the beginning they were only to make Elsa go to sleep, and to get her to practise granny’s secret language, and a little because granny is just about as nutty as a granny should be. But lately the stories have another dimension as well. Something Elsa can’t quite put her finger on…’

When Granny dies, Elsa is sent on a quest delivering letters of apology to all the people in their building. As she completes her request Elsa learns that the myths and fairy tales are rooted in the reality that surrounds her.

Laugh aloud funny, achingly sad, always touching Grandmother is not to be missed.

BELZHAR

belzharMEG WOLITZER

“Words matter. This what (the teacher) has basically been saying from the start. Words matter. All semester we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were looking for the our voice.” Belzhar is about the power of writing and the power of books. The narrator of the novel, Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue, is enrolled at The Wooden Barn in Vermont, an institution dedicated to the care of “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers.” The Wooden Barn is the type of sanctuary a sensitive, difficult and well-to-do teenager is shuttled off to when, as Jam’s mother puts it, “We don’t know what else to do with you, babe!” She has been chosen for a peculiar class, Special Topics in English, where only a few select students will study with a respected, older teacher, to study only one writer in-depth. This year the poetess Sylvia Plath has been chosen for study. Journals are distributed for twice weekly writing about any topic. Each student in the group has suffered a life-altering calamity and when they write in their journal they go back to the time of their trauma to relive the time before it happened. Belzhar (pronounced BEL-jhar in homage to Plath’s “The Bell Jar”) is their code name for this trance state. When they return from Belzhar exactly five pages have been written in their journals, about what they did in the trance.

Wolitzer is a great writer. At times Belzhar was a page turner. Had I known it was a young adult book I likely wouldn’t have read it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

BORN WEIRD

feb13-Must-Reads-01ANDREW KAUFMAN

Weird is about the redemptive power of family. At the moment of their births the Weird children were given a blessing, a special power by their grandmother. As time passed the blessings seemed more of a cures than a blessing. The children call it a “blursing.”  Lucy never gets lost, Abba never loses hope, Richard is programmed to keep himself safe from harm, Kent is able to defend himself from all threats, and Angie always forgives. On her death bed the grandmother, who the children nicknamed, The Shark, predicated the exact time of her death and stated that if all the children were present that the curses would be lifted. What follows is a madcap race to gather all the sibling and convince them to come for the good of all. The children have been on their own since their father died in a car crash, the body was never found, and the mother slipped into a kind of madness at the loss of her husband.

“It became clear to her that the only thing powerful enough to transform people into brothers and sisters and and mothers and fathers, is the ability to forgive each other. That what really gets handed down from generation to generation isn’t blood or history but the will to forgive.”

THE TINY WIFE

ANDREW KAUFMANwife

The most bizarre bank robbery opens Wife. The the thief, flamboyantly wearing a purple hat, demands from all present in the bank the most sentimental item they possess. Not their money, “It was never about the money.” He receives a watch given to a man by his mother, photo graphs of children, a calculator by the mathematics loving wife of the narrator, a much read copy of The Stranger by Camus, among other precious objects. The thief tells the people he has taken 51 percent of their souls and that they will need to learn to grow them back or they will die. Thus the fable begins and so does the magic realism of this novella. The victims begin to notice strange things happening to them. A woman’s lion tattoo leaps off her leg and proceeds to chase her about the city. A baby fills his diapers with money instead of excrement. A woman wakes to find her husband has turned into a snowman. A man realizes his mother has become small enough to fit in his pocket, but worse, she exponentially multiplies, so that there are dozens of her. The narrator’s wife, Stacey, mother of their toddler, is shrinking at a rate she calculates will mean she will disappear in a matter of days.

At one point, the thief says to the husband: “Perhaps one of the hardest things about having kids is realizing that you love them more than your wife. That it’s possible to love someone more than your wife. What’s worse is that it’s a love you don’t have to work for. It’s just there, indestructible, getting stronger and stronger. While the love of your wife, the one you do have to work at, and work so very hard at, gets nothing. Gets neglected, left to fend for itself. Like a houseplant forgotten on the windowsill.”

Wife is well written and is a quick read. Check it out to find out which victims can grow back their souls and how. Well worth the read.

FROM THE KITCHEN OF HALF TRUTH

truthMARIA GOODIN

When Meg May started school she told her mother‘s fantastical stories as the truth. In kindergarten that worked but as the children grew older her inability to separate fantasy from reality lost her her friends and separated her from her peers as weird. And it drove her into the world of science where everything is provable where she finds comfort in logic and order. The first part of TRUTH is laugh a loud funny as Meg remembers some of the stories her mom, Val, told her when young. “I came out under done. Five more minutes and I would have been as big as the other children. It was the gas man’s fault.” The imaginative tales stemming from Valerie’s obsession with food and cooking are absolutely charming, from the mint slice that bestows super speed to the hotdogs that bark and the toad in the hole that refuses to stay put. When Meg becomes aware that her mother is terminally it, Meg drops out of school to stay with her mother. The tone of the book changes from funny to touching. At her daughter’s suggestion Val hires a gardner to help keep the yard in shape.  It is obvious however that beneath the fantastical stories Meg’s mother has concocted lies a dark secret, and in fact we eventually learn she is hiding some horrifying truths. Truths that Meg finds that she regrets insisting on knowing when they reveal painful memories.

TRUTH is an enjoyable read.

MADDADDAM

maddMAGARET ATWOOD

Maddaddam is a story of myth making as Toby explains the past to the Crakers the bio-engenireered creatures created by Crake before he killed everything else in the first book of the trilogy Oryx and Crake. Thanks you to Atwood for providing a synopsis of the first two volumes. I found it a great way to start Maddaddam with a refresher course. Toby tells the story of Zeb and his harsh upbringing by the Rev of the Church of PetrOleum and his eventual escape into a life on the run, first to San Francisco’s “pleeblands,” then to a job as a magician’s assistant, to survival in the Canadian wilderness after a “Bearlift” mission goes wrong, to New New York (on the Jersey Shore) and at last into work at a HelthWyzer laboratory compound, where he meets characters familiar to us as members of an underground movement. Toby’s telling of Zeb’s story is interspersed with the present-day defense of the compound and the unusual partnership they develop for mutual protection. Toby teaches the Crakers to read, write and to tell their own stories.atwood

Maddaddam is a book of hope and healing and renewal.

Read this book but do read the trilogy in order. It is terrific.

 

THE HUMANS

humansMATT HAIG

Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University, one of the great mathematical geniuses of our time, has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, thereby finding the key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe, guarantee a giant technological leap for mankind and put an end to illness and death. Alerted to this amazing breakthrough on the other side of the universe, and convinced that the secret of primes cannot be entrusted to such a violent and backward species as humans, the super-advanced Vonnadorians dispatch an emissary to erase Martin and all traces of his discovery. The book that opens with our alien narrator finding himself in the body of the professor, whom he has just assassinated. But the instantaneous intergalactic travel hasn’t turned out quite as expected. Instead of finding himself in Martin’s office, our nameless Vonnadorian has arrived in the middle of a major highway , with no understanding of human culture and wearing his victim’s body but not a stitch of clothing. He is run over but rapidly heals himself and stumbles off to a gas station where he peruses a Cosmopolitan magazine to learn the local language.

The beginning is laugh out loud funny as the alien learns about post-millenial earth culture and comments on it as a visitor from a far. But as he becomes more human the novel changes tone to warm, welcoming glow.

This is a must read.

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

oceanNEIL GAIMEN

Gaimen has given us a dark dream of a novel, at times a nightmare. The forces of good and evil fight over the heart and soul of a seven year old boy. It is also about the fleeting and changing nature of memory. The narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral. He is drawn to return to the house at the end of the lane. As he sits by the ocean that looks at times like a duckpond or a pail of water, childhood memories flood his consciousness. When he was a boy a horrible darkness was released in the neighbourhood when a man committed suicide in his family vehicle. Luckily he had the protection of the three women who live in the house at the end of the lane. Lettie, his friend promised to protect him no matter what would arise, was a couple of years older than him but had the wisdom of the ages. Her grandmother Mrs. Hempstock and her mother Old Mrs. Hempstock have amazing skills. They could even take time apart and sew it back together in a new and changed way.NeilGaimanSandman

Ocean is a must read. It is the type of book you can read in a single session it is so intriguing.

THE TRIAL OF FALLEN ANGELS

angelsJAMES KIMMEL, JR

Brek Cuttler, a big name astronaut  and later lawyer, found her self on a deserted train platform. She is covered in blood and there are three holes in her chest. The transition between living and dead isn’t an easy one. And for victims of violence, it may be even more difficult. Cuttler isn’t ready to look at all her memories, especially of how she died and what happened to her little pre-school girl. She is told she is Shemaya Station and that because she is a lawyer she will be a presenter, similar to a defense attorney, only without the arguments. Souls are presented in the Courtroom for determination of where they will spend eternity. To present a soul, Cuttler is given awareness of all the soul’s memories. Presenters practically relive the soul’s lifetime. She learns how here life is connected to other souls even through the past generations. “If I had remembered everything, I could not have possibly known how deeply interconnected my life had been to so many different people.”

angels1Angel‘s is a spiritual thriller, an amazing book.

 

FRIENDLY FETISH: A Beginner’s Guide to Kink

fetishEMILY DUBBERLY

FETISH is a naughty little book; but with popularity of erotic fiction I choose to review it.  It is a book that needs a lot of skimming. And according to interests some chapters I skipped completely. Dubberly has written a self-help book to help couples enrich their sexual lives. Chapters include Fantasies, Voyeurism, Props and group sex. So if you have an interest you will enjoy this book.

Fetish reminded me of this memoir:

CONCERTINA: The Life and Loves of a Dominatrix

 

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

RANSOM RIGGS

Jacob has grown up listening to his grandfather’s strange stories, although as he grows into his later teens he doesn’t believe the stories
the way he used toas boy. When he witnesses his  grandfather’s death by a vicious attack by one of the strange monsters form the stories he is both confused and inquisitive. Haunted by his grandfather’s last words, Jacob is determined to find out the truth.

Jacob manages to convince his therapist and his parents that a holiday away from home in a remote island off the coast of Wales is just what he needs to clear his head. Once he’s there, however, he realises that all his grandfather’s stories were true. Peppered with creepy photographs, the story is one of adventure and fantasy. Jacob is a great narrator, one who’ll appeal to children and adults. On the island, he finally feels like he’s found a place where he belongs and a sense of purpose in his life. Despite the image on the cover, this is not a horror story. It is more a magical fantasy world that we enter when we go with Jacob into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The book is fill will unusual pictures. The story is quirky and fun. Meant for teens, it is still an  enjoyable fantasy for adults.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS

ERIN MORGENSTERN

Night Circus is magic realism at its best. The fantasy world Morgenstern creates reals in the reader amazingly quickly and takes him on a magic carpet ride through a world where magicians can control matter with their minds. Two characters create the Night Circus as a challenge to see who is the greater magician. The Night Circus opens at midnight and closes at dawn. Audiences might watch a tattooed contortionist fold herself into a tiny glass box, feast on chocolate mice and caramel popcorn, or wander through a sequence of tents that includes an ice garden, a desert and a maze constructed from towering clouds. There seems no end to the exploration of the circus.

Morgenstern’s imagination is magnificent. Circus is a page  turner.

 

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