Author Archives: Joanne Booy

‘Dead Cold’ by Louise Penny (Three Pines Mystery #2)

Louise Penny’s mystery series set in the tiny Quebec village of Three Pines, features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This is the second instalment and though it is not essential to read the books in order, I am doing that, because it has been recommended. The characters do develop throughout the series and being able to follow that is as entertaining as solving the murder mysteries. I enjoyed this one more that the first (Still Life), only because I was returning to this village and to these characters and that familiarity added pleasure to the reading for me. Penny’s website is very beautifully done, has some interesting information about the inspiration for the village and the inspector, and even has a FAQ section. Maybe you love FAQ sections as much as I do!

It’s early days for me with this series. I’m looking forward to more. I’ve heard the series just gets better and better and has met with huge worldwide success. I will share this quote from the author because it demonstrates how her mysteries are a literary cut above in my opinion. As she says herself in the candid interview I’ve included below with CBCs Wendy Mesley, the books are not about murder, they have murder in them.

“My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choice. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love. If you take only one thing away form any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.”

‘No and Me’ by Delphine de Vigan

Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life–and that of her parents–all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No (short for Nolwenn), a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?

Translated from French, this young adult novel grew on me. It’s definitely a ‘cross-over’ novel, appealing to adults as well as teens. Though it has a bit of a slow start, it has beautiful and important themes about homelessness, adolescence, friendship, and motherlessness. There are only a few characters but that spareness is what makes it great. Most striking is the juxtaposition between the simplicity of the language and the depth of ideas in the novel. There would be a lot to discuss if a book club read this together. It would be a great book for high schools to use in French class (No et Moi)…easy and engaging for teens to read,  but well written and academic enough.

The effects of Lou’s kindness and bravery in inviting No to come and stay is remarkable and has far reaching effects on her family. Along with classmate Lucas, Lou tries to help No build a life away from the streets. However, No’s emotional scars run deep and she pushes Lou’s friendship and trust to the limits. Without revealing the ending, I feel I want to say that I found it sad that No never realized what a huge impact she had on all of the members of Lou’s family, by coming to stay with them. Isn’t it often the case that those who reach out to help are the ones who end up being blessed?

‘Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?: A Memoir’ by Roz Chast

Roz Chast squeezes more existential pain out of baffled people in cheap clothing sitting around on living-room sofas with antimacassar doilies in crummy apartments than Dostoevsky got out of all of Russia’s dark despair. This is a great book in the annals of human suffering, cleverly disguised as fun. Bruce McCall

Absolutely brilliant. Just loved this memoir by American cartoonist Roz Chast. It’s an honest heartfelt account of her parents’ final journey into old age, disability, and death. The slow decline of her meek father and overbearing mother is described in all of the detail that anyone dealing with elderly parents will be able to relate to–bedsores, assisted living, dementia, guilt, love, memories, worry, decisions, etc.–Chast holds nothing back. As she tells her story using cartoons and family photographs, Chaz strikes the right balance between humour and pathos. It would be so helpful to anyone going through the same experience.  If you’ve read this book, be sure to see the epilogue which appeared in The New Yorker in 2016.

Epilogue in The New Yorker

Note: According to the reviews I read, the graphics of this book are not well represented in the e-book format (Kindle). Hard cover is best. I borrowed a copy from the public library.

‘The Hummingbird’ by Stephen P. Kiernan

“We live our lives on a whole planet, seeing and learning and going from place to place. But eventually there arrives a time for each of us, when our world becomes smaller: one house, one floor of that house, and near the end, one room, one little room to which our whole gigantic life has been reduced. And when that happens . . . that room becomes sacred. It is the holy, modest place in which we will perform perhaps the hardest task of our life: letting it go.”

This is a story of courage, compassion, and redemption. Deborah Birch, a seasoned hospice nurse has a difficult new patient. And when Nurse Birch is off duty she is not able to get much rest because her husband is suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and rage.

The author weaves together three different threads in this novel: death/dying, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Pearl Harbour. There are two alternating story lines, one about the Pacific in WW 2, and the other about a hospice care nurse caring for a patient and supporting her husband who just returned from his last deployment.  The author crafts a gentle yet compelling story that is easy to read and beautifully written. I will definitely be reading more by this author who is a graduate of the acclaimed University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop and has won many awards for his writing. His latest novel which came out earlier this year is called The Baker’s Secret which is about D-Day from the French perspective. And another one that looks good is The Curiosity which is a thriller about a man frozen in the Arctic for more than a century, who wakes up in the present day.

Kiernan’s writing has a ‘fresh’ feel to me and I really enjoyed it. The season I read it in was especially poignant for me because my sister was dying and I began reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It was meaningful to view the perspective of navigating the decline of old age that Gawande brings and comforting to experience the compassionate care of the hospice nurse in the novel at the same time. Hospice care is such amazing work and I gained even more respect for it in reading this book.

‘The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism’ by Naoki Higashida, K.A Yoshida, David Mitchell

When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was published, it was an immediate sensation because it gave such a sensitive inside look into the mind of a boy with autism. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer did the same. Both of these, though wonderful novels, are fiction. The Reason I Jump is written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy himself, using an alphabet grid. Painstakingly Naoki constructed words and sentences that resulted in a one-of-a-kind memoir, giving a rare view into how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives and responds.

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, (whose Japanese wife did the translation) writes a foreword and a postscript to the book and since he is an accomplished author, probably assisted in putting it onto bestsellers lists. His commitment and passion for this topic are clearly evident and come from a heart that knows the struggle of communication. Mitchell himself suffers from the speech disorder of stammering and his son has autism.

One of the difficult things is that the actions and interactions of people with autism are so often misunderstood. And there is nothing more frustrating than being misunderstood. That is what makes this such an important and revolutionary book for anyone who wants to better understand the effort it takes for someone with autism to navigate the world.

It’s a short book, mostly in Q & A format, with questions like “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?”“Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?””Do you prefer to be alone?””Is it true that you hate being touched?””What’s the worst thing about having autism?” The book also contains some beautiful stories written by Naoki which reveal his acute intellect and imagination. Most notable is that Naoki loves nature and being outside in green just makes his heart sing. Like the friend who recommended this book to me mentioned, “Is that really so surprising? Isn’t that how God made us?”

‘Commonwealth’ by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is one of my favourite authors but this one was a little disappointing. I loved the writing, Patchet is a master at non-cliché insights, but the crazy blended family was a bit hard to keep track of and I didn’t connect with the characters as much as usual with a Patchett novel. The novel was enjoyable enough, it just didn’t grab my attention as well as Bel Canto or State of Wonder did. It did have one of the best opening lines of a book ever…”“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” I read an interview with Patchett about this book and she gave one of the best definitions of fiction I’ve ever heard: “None of it happened, and all of it’s true.” From the same interview, she said that her father was dying and actually passed away while she was writing this novel, and as I reflect on that, the parts in the story when Franny’s father was dying were the most poignant and most beautifully written–now that makes sense.

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.”

‘Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat’ by Bee Wilson

“The food we cook is not only an assemblage of ingredients. It is the product of technologies, past and present.”

Food writer Bee Wilson does a really great job of looking at the history of how we cook and eat; it’s a look at kitchen utensils and cooking methods that we now take for granted. The modern kitchen and its contents evolved over time around the cooking practices of their day and were dependent on a number of factors that we are most likely unaware of. With artful sketches by Annabel Lee gracing each chapter, Wilson looks into things like pots and pans, knives, fire, measurement, refrigeration, and things as simple as the humble wooden spoon, the indispensable chopping knife, and the clever vegetable peeler. The history is fascinating and Wilson’s writing style is engaging. She has done her homework and relays the information in an entertaining manner.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys cooking and is interested in how we as humans have evolved in our domesticity (also makes me think of Bill Bryson’s book At Home). Even though it contains not a single recipe, it does provide inspiration and a new respect for being in the kitchen and cooking even a simple meal.