Monthly Archives: October 2011

‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

An atmospheric fantasy about a moving circus that “appears without warning” should be a wonderful backdrop for an intriguing story – unless the characters are flat and the storyline also appears and disappears like a bird in a magician’s hand. The plot is elusive and uninteresting, jumping back and forth in time, until predictably merging near the end of the book. There is some nice writing that creates a mood, but you’d think that a circus which not only contains magic but is magical itself would be….well, magical!

Marco and Celia are young magicians who are submitted to a challenge which not only pits them against each other, but magically builds and develops the circus as well. The circus is only open at night and has very little colour besides some splashes of red amidst a lot of white, black, and grey. There is wonder and enchantment for those who visit, not only in what they see, but in how it makes them feel. Not a bad basis for a good story, if it had ever taken off. There was a fantastic clock fashioned for the entrance to the circus that was charming and worth imagining.  I think I was secretly hoping for a new Hunger Games, but this certainly was not it. So, unless you are a diehard fantasy fan, I’d take a pass on this one.

‘The Postmistress’ by Sarah Blake

This is a very beautifully written book. The story captivated me from the start and held me right through to the end. It is evocative, thought provoking, and unsentimental (despite the cover).

The characters will stay with me for a very long time and Cape Cod is an unusual setting from which to tell a World War II story. Parts of the story takes place in London as well, during the time when bombs rained on the city and all the people living there could do was “Keep Calm and Carry On” (see note below). It was a new reality in WW II that civilians would be victims of war. Today that is true even more than ever. Perhaps that is all that civilians really can do.

What if a letter that was written was never delivered? What might happen and what consequences might there be? And what if it was a postmaster who chose not to deliver the letter? That would complicate matters even more.

 Frankie Bard is an American war correspondent based in Europe. It is her voice that brings the war into the living rooms of Cape Cod, a whale tail flip of a place on the edge of the Eastern USA Coast.  Iris James is the postmistress living in Cape Cod. Her job is to deal daily with the mail. Both of these women’s work is bearing news, one in the form of stories to be told, the other in the form of letters to be sent and delivered.

Side Note:  Though I don’t remember if this poster is even actually mentioned  in this story, the scenes about the London bombings made me think about it, and wonder about its history.  It is literally all over the tourist town where I live, available on post cards, mugs, and coasters.  The poster is historical.  It was produced by the British government in 1939, and was intended to raise the morale of the British people during the war. However, it never caught on during that time, and was little known.  In 2000 it resurfaced as a retro British icon depicting  a certain British outlook or character of long suffering and a stiff upper lip: “tap(ping) directly into the country’s mythic image of itself: unshowily brave and just a little stiff, brewing tea as the bombs fall” (Bagehot, The Economist). In the most recent context, it depicts the posture of a people struggling with economic woes and social struggles.

‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell

Assignments are good for us. They make us do things we wouldn’t normally do. It’s why we like book clubs; we end up reading books we wouldn’t normally read. After not really enjoying the last book I read by David Mitchell, I was not too thrilled that my next reading group read was another one written by him. But this assignment did not disappoint. Cloud Atlas is good!

Cloud Atlas is a unique novel comprised of 6 novellas. Six little stories arranged in a nesting doll sort of fashion. Each story is interrupted and a new story begins, except the last one. It has an ending and then the rest of the stories get finished, one at a time. The first is historical fiction from the 19th century and consecutive ones move forward in time. The characters in each story “find” the previous story somewhere,  sort of like finding a diary or seeing the movie.

I found it helpful to see the stories mapped out on Wikipedia before reading them. There are no spoilers in this link.
Cloud Atlas map in Wikipedia

Cloud Atlas was well done and I enjoyed most of it. I was tempted to skip to finish the other half of the stories right away when they got interrupted, but I resisted.  It is better that way. The first story actually stops mid-sentence, so don’t think a page is missing from your copy! I do have a confession to make though. I did not read story number six. It was written in a difficult dialect and I couldn’t manage it. One sour note in an otherwise intriguing musical piece can certainly be overlooked.

Apparently there’s a movie adaptation coming out in 2012 starring Tom Hanks and Hugh Grant!

Author Feature: Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen has been writing about Florida since his father gave him a typewriter at the age of 6. His books are light, sassy, humorous mystery/suspense novels.

Hiaasen’s books come in two categories. He has written award winning Young Adult novels  and adult novels.  All are set in Florida. ‘Skinny Dip’ opens with a husband throwing his wife overboard on a cruise ship. She survives, and instead of reporting the crime to the police, she decides to get her own revenge. The book is full of good humour but also alot of crude language and adult content.

Puzzled by the behaviour of an elusive barefoot boy, Roy who is the new kid in town, gets involved in a plot to stop greedy developers from harming the burrowing owls on a construction site. This is the kind of story Hiaasen tells well. You keep turning the pages and you delight in seeing the bully finally get what he deserves. Hiaasen has no adult content or language in his Young Adult books and they are well written. ‘Hoot’ won the Newberry Honour Award. Many of his stories have been adapted for movies or TV.  Two other hysterical mystery YA novels are ‘Flush’ and ‘Scat’.

Hiaasen writes a column for the Miami Herald where he has made as many enemies as friends.  He supports environmental causes and has won many honours for his investigative reporting.  Many of his novels have been made into films and his book topics include rants against big business. He roots for the underdog and his novels satisfy because the good guys win. Both of these books were delightful beach or travel reads. They kept me turning pages on a recent trip, or perhaps,  instead of saying ‘page turner’, it should now be called a ‘button pusher’ since I read them on my Kindle. 🙂

‘Catch Me When I Fall’ by Patricia Westerhof

‘Catch Me When I Fall’ is a collection of short stories, all set in  a fictitious town called Poplar Grove, Alberta. The stories are about separate families but loosely connected in the Dutch immigrant community. Westerhof includes many details which would feel familiar to anyone who grew up in that sub-culture: peppermints in church, meatball soup with Maggi, African violets watered from the bottom only! There is thriftiness, tidiness, a devotional called Today, and shepherd’s pie. Westerhof knows her characters well, in all their braveness and brokenness. Why were these immigrants so stubborn and strong willed when they were the ones with the gumption to move to a foreign land? Would they not be more flexible and tolerant of inevitable change?

The middle word in the title of her book is important. It is not a matter of “If”, but “When”. In our humanity we are broken and in need of redemption. We don’t always get it right and though the Potter has crafted us and loves us, we are broken pots. Stories don’t always end happily, cultures and generations collide. But this is where Westerhof brings God’s love and redemption in. God’s grace shines through those cracks, it’s how the light gets in. And He will catch us when we fall, hopefully and sometimes with the help of His people in community.