Author Archives: Joanne Booy

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles

Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat, Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in a small room in the Metropol, a grand hotel across from the Kremlin in Moscow. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. ‘Exile at home’ is the worst kind of punishment because it’s impossible to leave and begin anew. He finds ways to pass the time, make himself useful, forge meaningful relationships, and yes, be a little subversive. He befriends a spirited young girl called Nina who joins him on adventures in the  hotel and later on, also her daughter Sofia. The story unfolds beautifully and has a great deal of old world charm. Towles has an elegant way of creating a sophisticated ambience with his writing style, but it is also brimming with humour. The ending was perfect.

To be honest, I found parts of the book a tad slow, but then those sections would be followed by some exquisite prose that would take my breath away, and all would be forgiven. Though not difficult to follow, not everyone will have the patience for this book, but if you do, you will be richly rewarded. I actually did love it, but wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It reminded me of the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which was also received as brilliant by some, and left others wondering what the fuss was about. I loved that one too. So it’s definitely a “if you like that, you’ll love this” situation. Here is a sample of the writing which also hints at the fascinating political undercurrents ever present in the novel.

“For years now, with a bit of smile, the Count had remarked that this or that was behind him–like his days of poetry or travel or romance. But in so doing, he had never really believed it. In his heart of hearts, he had imagined that, even if unattended to, these aspects of his life were lingering somewhere on the periphery, waiting to be recalled. But looking at the bottle in his hand, the Count was struck by the realization that, in fact, it was all behind him. Because the Bolsheviks, who were so intent upon recasting the future from a mold of their own making, would not rest until every last vestige of his Russia had been uprooted, shattered, or erased.”

Whether you decide to read the book or not, this trailer for it is worth a view:

‘Undone’ by Michele Cushatt

“Maybe you’re not supposed to manage all this. Maybe, instead, you’re supposed to experience it. Walk through it. Do the best you can.”

To be honest, what drew me to this Christian memoir was the cover art…I loved the upside down-ness of the idyllic pastoral scene which seemed to speak of what the title was already hinting at…making peace with an unexpected and imperfect life. With real vulnerability and honest fear, Cushatt talks about her life which has included its fair share of messiness: divorce, remarriage, blended family, fostering children, and recurring cancer. What seemed to add insult to injury was Cushatt’s cancer–she is a public speaker and she had to part with her tongue. Doesn’t seem fair at all! Of course life isn’t fair, and this memoir is hopeful and inspirational about how to find strength and grace in even the worst moments. Sometimes life’s greatest beauty shows up in life’s greatest chaos. She doesn’t have all the answers, but her grappling with the questions is reassuring and real.

 

 

 

This trailer for her next book I Am gives a good introduction of the author.

‘The Code of the Woosters’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Once in awhile it’s fun to pick up an old classic, and this was a good choice. It reminded me a lot of Three Men in a Boat. Written in 1938, The Code of the Woosters features Bertie Wooster (an upper class lovable but gormless character) foolishly stumbling and bumbling through slapstick adventures, only to be saved each and every time, by his wise and intelligent butler Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote many instalments and series about these two, all poking fun at the British idle rich, and always with Jeeves cleverly and boldly unraveling the whole convoluted mess, in his calm, collected, and elegant manner.

Old British comedy is often absurd, capitalizing on simple situations and misunderstandings that just get worse and worse (think Fawlty Towers and Black Adder). Jeeves and Wooster episodes aired in Britain in the 90’s. I have included here a youtube with bits from this book. I loved watching British comedy icons Hugh Laurie (Bertie Wooster) and Stephen Fry (Jeeves), but also unexpectedly Highclere Castle (from Downton Abbey fame) makes an appearance as Totleigh Towers! Who knew?

‘The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future’ by Kevin Kelly

I’m giving full marks to this mind-blowing, highly readable forecast of inevitable technological trends, already in motion, that will be transforming our lives in the next 30 years. It’s a prediction of a much larger scope than what features the next generation of iPhone might have. Its a visionary exploration of the emerging connectivity of our world, enabled by the internet. Twelve trends are identified and explained by the author that could revolutionize the way we work, play, learn, buy, and communicate with one another. Kelly claims that even though we think technology may have already reached a pinnacle, actually it is just in its infancy.

This is a brilliant and provocative choice of Christmas gift for the techie/business person in your life. Actually, I am neither of those and I loved it. I liked how the author is prophetic, but doesn’t preach doom and gloom… yes, the future will be very different, but let’s be optimistic and embrace change rather than shy away from it. Let’s be aware of what the future may bring and be part of steering and shaping it. Let’s realize that robots and artificial intelligence are inevitable and figure out how to best work with them. This is not just a cinematic brave new world, this is a possible reality for our grandchildren. How can we best prepare them?

If you’d rather listen than read, this is an excellent overview on youtube:

‘Bear Town’ by Fredrik Backman

After thoroughly enjoying A Man Called Ove (both book and movie) I was curious about how other books by the same author would be. Bear Town is a beautifully written story about a small town that is absolutely consumed by hockey. Everything and everyone is affected, even those who don’t play, and it is a very serious business–not just a game. It may be all about winning, but it is also about moral choices, love, loyalty and the strength and fragility of the human spirit. Though a bit slow in pace at times, Backman’s character development is excellent and the writing top-notch. The opening line is breathtaking and haunts the whole reading of the book. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

All the hopes and dreams of the town rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys when the junior hockey team makes it to the national championships. The semi-final match is a catalyst for a violent act that leaves a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. This is a very different novel than Ove which speaks well for the author whose skill as a writer is multi-faceted.

‘They Left Us EVERYTHING’, by Plum Johnson

“…thinking about all the things we’ve inherited, all the carefully saved fragments from another time…each generation preserving them in turn, wanting future generations to know of this long, braided chain of genes, habits, and attitudes that binds us together as a family: our history and stories.” 

This is a memoir about a woman who takes on the task of clearing out her parents’ house after they have passed on. When we die we don’t take anything with us, and everyone else gets to go through what we have left behind! Johnson grew up in this house in Oakville, Ontario, and as she handles objects from the past, she reflects on her life, her relationship with her parents and siblings, and the life her parents had before they moved into this house. She had a disciplined British father, an exuberant Southern mother, and four siblings, all living together in this 23-room house. Johnson has a warmly candid writing style that is at once funny and poignant, but also delves into serious issues of managing loss and grief.

What I didn’t notice about the title when I first came into contact with this book was that the word EVERYTHING in the title is capitalized. Yes, the house was FULL of STUFF and for anyone who has done it, removing it all and making decisions about what to throw and what to keep, is a colossal task that does take one on an emotional journey. I’m glad Johnson shares hers. She also raises some interesting questions about whether it’s better to clear out your own mess before you die, if possible, or if it’s somehow therapeutic for your children to do it. Despite the fact that it can be frustrating if story-less objects are left without the ability to ask questions about them, there is value in reliving the memories and there may even be some surprises!

‘The Alice Network’ by Kate Quinn

In the chaotic aftermath of WW 2, Charlie finds herself unmarried and pregnant, and on the verge of being thrown out by her very proper family. Her mother wants her to go to Switzerland to take care of her Little Problem. Instead Charlie runs away to London where she begins a search for her beloved cousin Rose who has not been heard from since the war. Joining her in the quest, is an unlikely partner. Eve was a spy in WW 1, and though heroic, was also broken in body and spirit. She has her own reasons for being on this quest with Charlie and they are far more sinister. The book alternates between Eve and Charlie’s stories, both riveting, until the stories inevitably converge. It is an enthralling historical fiction that is gripping and features two strong female protagonists. This was a great story about courage and resilience in unbelievably hard times but also had some measures of humour and romance thrown in. I liked that it combined both world wars in the same novel. The espionage aspects reminded me of Code Name Verity which was also a great read. I will be recommending this one widely!