THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

JAY ASHER

Having thoroughly enjoyed the show on TV I wanted to read the book and I wasn’t disappointed. In many ways the book is more coherent than the show which gets caught up in too many time changes and flashbacks. Hanna Baker is a high school student who commits suicide. She leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes, each directed at one person, each giving a reason she had for killing herself. She talks about the rumours and the betrayals she suffered at the hands of people she longed to call her friends. She mails the tapes to Tony who supervises that they get sent on to the next person. Each chaper of the book is the contents of the tape with minimal backup from Clay the boy who tried but failed to befriend her.

The book is as gripping as the tv show. Maybe more so.

COMPANY TOWN

MADELINE ASHBY

Go Jung-Hwa is unusual. She is completely organic. No augmentations, as most people have added to their physical selves. Hwa is a skilled fighter and bodyguard for the sex workers’ union but she hates her body because of a birthmark that stains her skin. Zachariah Lynch, one of the wealthiest people in the world, hires Hwa to protect his heir, his youngest son and genius, Joel.  Joel and Hwa are stalked by an invisible serial killer who targets both them and the sex workers Hwa used to guard. How do you defend yourself against an invisible agent?

If you enjoy dystopian fiction, this novel is for you.

THE WONDER

EMMA DONOGHUEimgres

Wonder like Donoghue’s previous novel, The Room, is about the lengths a person will go to protect a child. Lib, an English nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale, is hired to see if Irish girl, Anna O’Donnell, said to have gone four months without sustenance, is truly fasting. Anna, the 11-year-old daughter of a poor farmer in a desperately poor region, is surviving (her family claims) on a diet of water and prayer. Lib’s task is to watch over her to see whether she is telling the truth. She’s to report her findings to a committee of local people eager to refute criticisms that their community is perpetrating a backwater fraud. They want to believe that, in these years of privation and difficulty after the potato famine, they’re witnessing a genuine miracle.

In an author’s note, Ms. Donoghue explains that the novel was inspired by several dozen cases of the so-called Fasting Girls in Europe and North America, who claimed to go for long stretches of time with no food.

The ending is great! An excellent read.

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.

BE FRANK WITH ME

frankJULIA CLAIRBORNE JOHNSON

One hit wonder, recluse author M M Banning is broke, “swindled of her fortune by a crooked investment adviser.” She contracts to write a second novel, after 20 years, if her publisher provides a healthy advance and an assistant “bankrolled by the publisher.” When Alice arrives, her only duty is to take care of the nine-year-old, eccentric son, Frank.  Frank’s daily attire includes tailcoats, yacht wear, cufflinks, a top hat, and a fez.  He can neither be touched nor can he stand having his possessions touched. Either could cause a complete breakdown. He speaks in encyclopedia entries and makes observations far beyond his years, “as if he were  reading off a teleprompter in the middle distance.” He constantly reminds people that his IQ is higher than 97.9% of other people. Alice tries her best with Frank but she had assumed that she would be transcribing the author’s work onto the computer to send to the publishing firm not babysitting an eccentric child.

Frank is a lot of fun but like so many books has a weak ending. It is still an enjoyable ride.

 

 

 

 

 

THE WIDOW

FIONA BARTONwidow

A toddler has disappeared from her front yard. The police and the community search but find nothing. Gradually, the police zero in on a trio of suspects one of whom, Glen Taylor, becomes the prime suspect. The book opens with Glen already dead in an accident, his wife Jean, the widow of the title. The novel steps back to tell the story of their relationship and show just how creepy her husband Glen has become. But we don’t know if he is guilty of this horrendous crime. Kate Waters, a particularly persistent crime reporter, offers female empathy to the widow as bait while being utterly ruthless in getting the story, delighting trumping her rivals. It is quite a page turner.

12 ROSE STREET: A Joanne Kilbourn Mystery

GAIL BOWENGail_Bowen_12_Rose_Street

Joanne’s paraplegic husband, Zach, is running for mayor of Regina. Joanna is running his campaign. She has been involved in politics her entire life, trying to make the world a better place. The current mayor  who is backed by shady, wealthy developers, seems to be a the city favorite. Joanne stumbles when faced with blackmail about the betrayal of a trusted friend.  Zack hoped to expose some of the corrupt dealings on the civic scene. Before he knows it, however, the race is marred by threats, violence, attack ads, and of course murder. Then there is this mysterious property in North Central, 12 Rose Street.

This is Bowen’s 15th novel in the series and likely her best.

CBC interview with Bowen.  I had the pleasure of hearing Gail do a reading and talk about her work. She is a wonderful speaker. Go see her if you get a chance.

THE UNQUIET DEAD

unquietAUSMA ZEHANAT KHAN

An unusual death.   A man fell off a cliff. But was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder. Who was Christopher Drayton? A wealthy patron of the arts, supporting the new museum of Andalucia, the Spanish state with most Moorish influence. But could he be Drazen Krstic, the driving force behind theSrebrenica massacre of 1995, in the genocidal war that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Esa Khattak, head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, and Rachel Getty, his sergeant, handle minority sensitive cases, are tasked to find a solution to this case.

This a great mystery. Don’t miss it. I want to read more of her books. Her next is the Language of Secrets.

This is a LINK to a Bosnian woman’s victim’s statement to a UN’s inquest. Khan had an extensive author’s note at the end of the novel.

THE SILENT SISTER

sisterDIANE CHAMBERLAIN

The death of her father has brought Riley MacPherson back to her childhood home which does not hold many happy memories. Riley’s family have never recovered from the suicide of her older sister Lisa. Riley was only a toddler when tragedy struck and has had to live with two parents who rarely mention their eldest child and a brother who has a lot of built up anger.As she hears stories from old family friends, sorts her father’s collectables and old paperwork she realizes that the reason for Lisa’s suicide was not depression. Riley’s whole life has been based on a lie; she even became a counsellor to help other teens. No wonder Danny is unable to forgive their sister for ruining their family’s life – she was a murderer who took the coward’s way out. The family secrets don’t end there. The revelations are parceled out so skillfully that disbelief remains suspended until the satisfying if not entirely plausible close.

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.

ORDINARY GRACE

WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER

grace“The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”

I don”t cry while reading but Grace brought tears to my eyes. This beautifully written novel harkens backs to simpler times but the relationships in the book are anything but simple. The time is1961; the story is told by Frank Drum, minister’s son. “It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.” Frank and his family are ravaged by the devastating events of the summer. His father being the town pastor is kept informed of developments by the police. Frank and his younger brother find a way to listen to these private conversations and hear more than they should.

The characters come alive in Krueger’s warm writing. It is a novel you don’t want to end.

“When my mother finally sang it was not just a hymn she offered, it was consummate comfort. She sang slowly and richly and delivered the heart of that great spiritual [‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’] as if she was delivering heaven itself and her face was beautiful and full of peace. I shut my eyes and her voice reached out to wipe away my tears and enfold my heart . . . And when she finished the sound of the breeze through the doorway was like the sigh of angels well pleased.”

“To this day there are pieces I cannot hear without imagining my sister’s fingers shaping the music every bit as magnificently as God shaped the wings of butterflies.”

NOT MY FATHER’S SON

ALAN CUMMINGalan

Cumming’s memoir begins on the Panmure estate in Carnoustie, Scotland – not a council estate but the leftovers of a country house where his dad runs a saw mill: “It was all very feudal and a bit Downton Abbey, minus the abbey… Looking back on it, it was a beautiful place to grow up, but at the time all I wanted was to get away as far as possible.” His father was brutal, taking all his pain and anger out on his youngest son Alan. “Soon, my head was propelled forward by his hand, the other one wielding a rusty pair of clippers that he used on the sheep…They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my head with them, holding me down like an animal.” He made up a story about cutting his own hair for the teachers and students at school the next morning. Scariest of all are the calms between the storms: “That was the worst bit, the waiting… I never knew exactly when it would come, and that, I know, was his favourite part.”

“Our family had always been one of secrets, of silences, of holding things in.”  And Alan keeps secret his father’s many affairs. “Memory is so subjective. We all remember, in a visceral, emotional way, and so even if we agree on the facts – what was said, what happened where and when – what we take away and store from a moment, what we feel about it, can vary radically.” It is through a British reality TV show that Cumming learns the truth of his maternal grandfather who avoided the family when WWII ended and eventually died in Malaysia. Also Alan’s father told Alan’s brother that Alan is not his son. He claims Alan’s mother had an affair before he was born.

It is memoir of mysteries. Well written. Well worth the read.

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.

RIPPER

ISABEL ALLENDErip

Allende is one of my favourite authors. Ripper, her first crime novel, is not one of her best but is still worth reading. One of Allende’s strengths is her capitivating characters and Ripper abounds with these. Healer and tantric therapist Indiana, is the heart of the novel. Her daughter Amanda is a geek wizard whose on-line friends tackle the task of uncovering the identity of the serial killer stalking San Francisco. At the first murder, “The Case of the Misplaced Baseball Bat”, where a school security guard is found dead by a class of fourth-graders, bent over a vaulting horse with a baseball bat stuffed into his rectum, she seizes on the occasion to rethink the strategy of Ripper, the interactive mystery game she plays online with “a select group of freaks and geeks from around the world.” The brainy players — including a paralyzed boy in New Zealand, a Canadian girl with an eating disorder and Amanda’s grandfather — will match wits with the real killer. Amanda’s father, bad news in high school when he seduced Indiana, is now deputy chief of police who is conducting an investigation into the serial killer but has trouble keeping up his daughter and her cohorts. Indiana has two main men in her life, one an ageing playboy, the other a disabled ex-navy Seal – are central players in the drama too, one ending up a murderee and the other a suspect for the series of deaths.

Lots of fun. Great writing.

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

THE MEMORY OF LOVE

LINDA OLSSONLinda Olsson The Memory of Love_0

Marion Flint, a retired doctor, has lived on a remote stretch of wild New Zealand beach, a landscape conducive both to her solitary lifestyle and her deep denial of a traumatically painful past. Marion faces her memories after a chance encounter with a boy opens her heart to love once again. As she spends more time with Mika, an a child on the autistic spectrum, who visits most Thursdays, she remembers more of her heinous past. One Thursday she finds him floating in the ocean, after saving his life, she finds his frail body covered in horrific bruises. Marion talks to his grandmother who at first does not want to let the boy go because then she would loose the child support money. When Marion agrees to take the boy but let Grandma keep the support money, then the grandma agrees to relinquish the boy. When the boy is actually living with Marion more memories cascade into her being.

Olsson is a tremendous writer. She says so much in so few words. You will love this book.

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.

MAYA’S NOTEBOOK

maya allende1ISABEL ALLENDE

As an infant Maya is abandoned by both her mother and father so her loving Chilean Nina (Grandma) and Popo (Grandfather). She had a very happy childhood with a strict Nina and an indulgent Popo. But when Popo dies her grief is so profound her life falls apart. She assumes a goth persona and starts skipping school and taking drugs. Eventually she runs away to Los Vegas where she is taken under wing of a drug dealer, so at least she isn’t living on the streets. But she has to deliver drugs and get the money. For this she gets shelter, food, nice clothes and drugs. She sleeps during the day and works at nigh, But eventually she does hit bottom. A friend rescues her and gets her into rehab; then Nina sends her to a small island in Chilli to avoid the mafia who may be looking for her.

Allende is a wonderful writer. This is definitely a must read.

Also two of my favourite nonfiction works are by Allende. PAULA is her memoir about her daughter’s death but of course it is so much more. APHRODITE is a natural history of the senses brilliantly written and funny too. I took Aphrodite to a literary potluck and choose a recipe from her book Nun’s Nipples, meringues dipped in chocolate. So much fun.

All three are must reads.

GONE GIRL

GILLIAN FLYNNgone

I love the way Flynn gradually peals back the layers of both characters and plot to expose the inner core of the truth. I laughed out loud at the ending it is so great. This is a great book so I don’t want to reveal too much. The book opens on the fifth wedding anniversary of Amy and Nick Dunne. But by the end of the day Amy is gone. Disappeared. Passages from Amy’s diary show her to be a perfectionist but also unhappy. Having lived in New York city all her life, she is bored in her husband’s small home town. Nick, like the reader, knows when a man’s wife goes missing, the husband is usually to blame.

Go get your copy right now!

 

Quote:   “‘What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?’”

Just how well can you ever know the person you love? This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren’t his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

dog2MARK HADDON

What a pleasure it was to finally take the opportunity to read this book. Published in 2003, the book is ten years old and has greatly been discussed. It takes the reader on a journey into the mind of a high functioning autistic fifteen year old boy, Christopher. “It was 7 minutes after midnight.” The attention to detail in opening sentence alerts the reader that something is wrong.  At first I thought the narrator might be Asperger’s but at 15 asperger’s kids are not kicking and screaming when they are over stimulated by what to everyone would be normal situations. His autism means he can only ever tell the truth, and he becomes determined to discover who was responsible for murdering the neighbour’s dog. Through his detective work he unearths uncomfortable truths about his family and the way adults lie to children and to each other. Haddon has done a superb job of detailing the inner works of an autistic brain. A great read if you have missed it.haddon