Monthly Archives: September 2016

‘Expecting Adam’ by Martha Beck

expecting-adamstarstarstarstarMartha Beck tells the wondrous story of when she was pregnant with her second child, Adam. Martha had severe illness with all of her pregnancies so that part was not wondrous at all, plagued with nausea for 8 months while enduring a stressful work situation. Martha and her husband, while fully immersed in the prestigious, controlling, high-achieving, and competitive atmosphere of Harvard, find out that the child she is carrying is Down Syndrome. Some people in their community tell them to abort this ‘less than perfect’ fetus, while a few others are supportive and compassionate. But something, some surprising unaccountable force, keeps telling them that they should keep him. Though both Martha and John are down to earth and not exceptionally religious, it is as if some surge of destiny is compelling them to believe in a miracle that everything will be ok. Whether you believe it or not, is not at issue. It is her story and she tells it well.

Martha’s memoir is heart-felt and laugh-out-loud funny but mostly, drives home a powerful message of unconditional love. Who in this world can ever claim to be perfect? And since when do good things come from perfection? Our lives are messy and in the midst of the mess, extraordinary love can happen.

martha-and-adamThis book captivated me so completely that I couldn’t put it down. Martha’s witty style is so real, affirming, and uplifting except for her unfortunate use of the R-word, which I found jarring. The book was written in 1999, so perhaps it was still ok to use the term then. Other than that, I found it quite relevant 17 years later and utterly spot on.

‘A God in Ruins’ by Kate Atkinson

a-god-in-ruinsstarstarstar“A man is a god in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh the joy of sinking into a family saga by reading the sequel/companion novel right away! Reminds me of the massive English family sagas that I used to read by authors like Susan Howatch and Rosamunde Pilcher.

The main character in this book is Teddy, a minor character in Life After Life and Ursula’s little brother. He marries his childhood sweetheart and is portrayed as a gentle decent man, a long-suffering father to a horrible daughter who makes life very difficult for everyone around her. “He loved Viola as only a parent can love a child, but it was hard work.” Happily her two children grow up well despite their splendidly cantankerous mother (an ex-hippie turned novelist, “almost as good as Jodi Picoult”). Most of the book focusses on Ted as an RAF pilot in the war, working the strategic bombing commands over Germany. These missions were some of the worst, with very high casualties–as harrowing to read as the London Blitz sections in Life After Life, but all very well described.

A God in Ruins did not have the unique structure that Life After Life had, but she does toy with time a bit in this one as well, flitting back and forth. I did not find that annoying and I think it enhanced the story. Atkinson writes beautifully about everyday sorts of things but also using imagery, in this case about rising and falling, especially ascending in flight or falling back to earth. I think I liked Life After Life better, because of the way she played with infinite chances and possible scenarios, but I did love how some of the little mysteries in Life After Life were answered in A God in Ruins–another good reason to read them in tandem.

‘Scaredy Squirrel’ by Mélanie Watt

(Age 5-7)
This award winning series of children’s picture books features an adorable paranoid squirrel. It receives high marks from me for humour and for tapping into one of life’s realities: fear. If books are handy tools for vicariously encountering all kinds of human experience and emotion, this series has good value indeed!

Scaredy Squirrel would rather stay in his safe and familiar tree and follow a carefully planned routine, than risk venturing out into the unknown. Until one day the unexpected happens…and of course, he learns a gentle lesson that life will sometimes thrust him out of his comfort zone. What I like is that while developing him slightly, the experience doesn’t change him completely which is realistic and affirming.

Other titles in the series: Scaredy Squirrel… at night, goes camping, at the beach, as a birthday party, makes a friends, prepares for Christmas, and prepares for Halloween. Lots of adventures where courage is needed!

I loved the note at the back of the book:  “Mélanie Watt never leaves her home near Montreal, Quebec. She would rather concentrate on creating books for kids.” 🙂

Here is a read-aloud of the story. (If you can’t see this or interact with it in your email post, just click on See All Comments  or on the Post/Book Title at the top of the post, and you’ll get right to the blog where you’ll be able to click on the link.)


‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson

Life After LIfestarstarstarstar
Pal·imp·sest noun

1. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
2. something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form

“On a cold and snowy night in 1920, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.”

Not everyone will like this novel’s inventive structure, which plays with the possibilities of infinite chances, but I loved it. The author writes beautifully and uses this unique literary device to great effect. It’s as if the story is on tape and someone hits the rewind button and the same scenario plays out again, but with a slight twist that makes a huge difference. I found this toying with the “what-ifs” both fascinating and captivating and never tiresome. The Todd family was hugely entertaining and became so familiar because of the repetitions and viewing them from different angles. Towards the end of the book, the term palimpsest is mentioned in passing. I did have to look it up, and found the definition an elegant description of this very book. Very clever indeed.

I think I will indulge my impulse to just carry right on with the Todds in  A God in Ruins, not exactly a sequel but a companion novel. It is about Ursula’s younger brother Teddy, a minor character in Life After Life. Teddy is the subject of their eccentric auntie’s children’s books, and a sweet and gentle soul. How he ends up as a fighter pilot in the war is unclear, as is what actually happened when his plane went down in flames and he was presumed dead.