Monthly Archives: September 2013

‘Perfect’ by Rachel Joyce

PerfectstarstarstarReaders who liked  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will not be disappointed by this one, although it is very different. It’s sort of sad yet satisfying at the same time. And there is no need to read Harold Fry first.

Joyce’s books are thoughtful and gentle but can evoke deep feelings and produce an examination of one’s own life, loves, and shortcomings. The title of the book is….er, well, perfect. That single word kept echoing through my mind as I turned pages and even long after I’d put the book down.

In all of us, to some degree, is the striving for perfection…that unattainable ideal conjured in our own minds or suggested by the lies of standards set by advertising or the media. We want to be neater, slimmer, stronger, faster, more efficient, less forgetful…fill in the blanks for yourself. But that thinking is so flawed and does so much damage to our souls. Because it simply is not possible.

“Two seconds are huge. It’s the difference between something happening and something not happening. It’s very dangerous.” 

The story begins with the decision in 1972 to add two seconds to a leap year in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. This actually was done, but never repeated since. The author toys with existential dread and what could happen in two extra seconds that might alter the future forever.

Byron’s mother, late on the morning school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?

A great book club choice with much to ponder and discuss.

‘One Hen’ by Katie Smith Milway and Eugenie Fernandes

One Henstarstarstarstar

How one small loan made a big difference!

Sustainable development, social justice, and global citizenship seem like topics too big for a small child’s picture book, but really, it all just starts with one hen.

Based on a true story, Kojo’s idea to use a loan to buy a hen begins a series of improvements in his life and community. Beautifully and colourfully illustrated, the book tells Kojo’s story in two parallel narrations–one very simple for the non-reader, and the other with more background explanation for Grade 6 and up. It’s a book for all ages really, with a true “Kojo” story at the end and lots of links for further information and opportunities to become involved in micro-finance for non-profit. It goes beyond poverty and community development and touches on things like family values and justice as well.

There’s a great One Hen interactive website with additional stuff for teachers, parents and kids. Click here:  Micro-finance for Kids

It’s never too early to learn about being a global citizen and everyone should be thinking  about how powerful giving can be.

‘The Husband’s Secret’ by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretstarstarstarstarMother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia stumbles upon an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband’s hand, the letter says: To be opened only in the event of my death. Her husband is still alive and he is begging her not to open it. What does it say? Should she open it? What if she does?

Fabulous novel! This Australian author had me in the palm of her hand. Compulsively snatching time away from other projects and activities to read, I was addicted from start to finish. The end was totally unexpected and simply stunning. What a great storyteller, and her exploration of the idea of the “burden of a secret” is well developed. Can’t wait to read the other books she has written! Highly recommended for book clubs since there would be lots to discuss!

One of the things I love to do is research the author of the book I’m reading. Who are these people who write great books? Some authors have very entertaining websites and Moriarty certainly does. She’s very funny and her sense of humour shines through as she talks about her own life and writing. Liane Moriarty Website

‘The Unbearable Lightness of Scones’ by Alexander McCall Smith

The Unbearable Lightness of SconesstarstarstarWhat I appreciate about Alexander McCall Smith is that he celebrates the ordinary. His view of life and love is beautifully observed, cleverly detailed, and accurately described.  He creates conflict and embroiders it with philosophy. There is always depth tinged with humour or is it humour tinged with depth? The author worked as a medical law professor before he started writing novels, so it should be no surprise that he is good at ethics. I am delighted to have a ticket to hear him speak in London next month!

He has a number of series, all of which I follow. I do enjoy the comfort of a series at times, although it almost seems he writes them much faster than I can read them! I am caught up on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series, have only one more to read in the Isobel Dalhousie Series, but am woefully behind in this series, 44 Scotland Street. This one is #5 out of nine. But that is actually good news – I don’t really want to finish and have none left. If you are a Smith fan you are following me right now, if not, you need to click here: Alexander McCall Smith Books

44 Scotland Street first appeared in weekly instalments in The Scotsman, an Edinburgh newspaper. The recurring characters, who will soon seem like neighbours down your own street, are among others:
Bertie Pollock: 5 year old saxophone player who also speaks Italian
Irene Pollock: Bertie’s mother who acts more like Bertie’s personal trainer
Stuart Pollock: perpetually misplaces his car
Dr. Hugo Fairbairn: Bertie’s psychoanalyst
Olive and Tofu: Bertie’s friends, both incorrigible
Matthew Duncan: owner of an art gallery
Angus Lordie: portrait painter and owner of Cyril
Cyril: Angus’s dog with a gold tooth and an insatiable taste for ankles
Bruce Anderson: narcissist, but not incurably so
Big Lou: owner of a coffee bar, ever unlucky in love

Publishers Weekly:  “episodic, amusing and peopled with characters both endearing and benignly problematic.”
Library Journal said that “Smith’s insightful and comic observations, makes for an amusing and absorbing look at Edinburgh society.”
Bookseller said that “the writing style is understated, and the humour subtle but at times devastating.” (Wikipedia)

‘Tender is the Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender is the NightstarstarDick Diver and his wife Nicole are Americans at the centre of the European playground that was the French Riviera in the 1920’s. Dick is a psychoanalyst who marries Nicole, his emotionally unstable patient. A saga about rich, charismatic people in the south of France has a lot of potential for being interesting, especially when you throw in alcohol abuse, bad behaviour, mental health issues and infidelity. This was another whole era in American presence overseas. The age of the ‘ugly American’. The book does point out the differences between Americans and Europeans.

Published in 1934, like any other great novel of this time, there are plenty of themes, symbolic references, and foreshadowing. I read the book in conjunction with Sparks Notes to not miss anything, but it all felt rather like hard work instead of reading pleasure. Sometimes I think the allure of a classic is merely that we once had the fortitude to wade through it and now can smugly boast that we read it, since I didn’t find the book itself all that brilliant or that well written despite Fitzgerald being considered one of the great American writers. Maybe it was in its time! It is important to recognize the impact of a book when it first came out.

‘Tender is the Night’ being his last complete novel,  Fitzgerald poured a lot of himself into the book, which explains some of the dark themes. His wife Zelda suffered from mental illness and he himself suffered an alcoholic decline similar to the protagonist in the story.

‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ by Will Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Clubstarstarstarstar“Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.”

If you liked Tuesdays with Morrie, you’ll like this one. And if you are committed enough to reading to be in a book club, you’ll like this one. But what is the definition of ‘book club’? Not what you might think. In this case, all ‘book club’ really means is two people in conversation after having read the same book. That lets almost everyone in.

This is not a sad book. It is a poignant yet compelling memoir written by a loving son chronicling the end of his mother’s life. It’s a book about finding hope and joy in the midst of mortality. And it’s about the incredible power of books in our lives, affecting our thinking and stimulating our conversation.

Will and Mary Ann Schwalbe began an informal ‘book club’ simply by reading the same books and discussing them. It was something that just happened when Mary Ann found herself with pancreatic cancer and Will found himself spending time with her during treatments. He recounts conversations, mentions book titles they enjoyed, shares his feelings and her reactions to a variety of literary works. It is open and honest about what their family went through after their mother’s diagnosis of a disease that was “treatable but not curable”, an important distinction she makes.

The title is not The End of “Her” Life Book Club. The use of the word Your is deliberate. You (and I), even if perfectly healthy, have no idea when we might be reading our last book or having our last conversation. Although we don’t usually dwell on that, it is absolutely true.

There is a lot of wisdom in this book. Here are some notable quotes:
“…when you’re with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time.”
“The world is complicated…You don’t have to have one emotion at a time.”

This book did not cost me anything initially, because a good friend gave it to me (thanks Nandy!). But it did cost me in the end because I was compelled to order three more books which the Schwalbe’s made irresistible.  They are: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, The Etiquette of Illness by Susan Halpern, and Daily Strengths for Daily Needs by Mary Tileston.