Category Archives: Five Star

‘The White Darkness’ by David Grann

Henry Worsley was a man obsessed with trekking the South Pole. He idolised Ernest Shackleton, the nineteenth-century polar explorer, who tried to become the first person to reach the South Pole, and later sought to cross Antarctica on foot. Shackleton never completed his journeys, but he repeatedly rescued his men from certain death, and emerged as one of the greatest leaders in history.

Worsley felt an overpowering connection to those expeditions. He was related to one of Shackleton’s men, Frank Worsley, and spent a fortune collecting artefacts from their epic treks across the continent. He modelled his military command on Shackleton’s legendary leadership skills and was determined to measure his own powers of endurance against them. He would succeed where Shackleton had failed, in the most brutal landscape in the world. In 2008, Worsley set out across Antarctica with two other descendants of Shackleton’s crew, battling the freezing, desolate landscape, life-threatening physical exhaustion, and hidden crevasses.

In compelling narrative non-fiction, David Grann tells Worsley’s remarkable story with intensity and power, enhanced by breathtaking photographs. The White Darkness is both a gorgeous keepsake volume and a spellbinding story of courage, love, and a man pushing himself to the extremes of human capacity.

Ernest Shackleton’s journey is chronicled beautifully in a children’s book by William Grill:  Shackleton’s Journey.

‘Feeding my Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as My Mom Lives with Memory Loss’ by Jann Arden

“You are not supposed to get it right out of the gate. My favourite people in the world, my dearest friends, all rattle when you give them a shake. They have little pieces that have broken off inside of them that are a constant reminder to them, and me, of how far they’ve come and how much they’ve learned and what they have survived.”

Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden has written a heartfelt book about walking along side her mother through Alzheimer’s. It was surprisingly good and I appreciated her honesty and wisdom as she shares this diary-style journey of caring for both of her parents in their twilight years. Although I’ve listened to Jann Arden’s music, and even met her once in Tanzania, I didn’t know much about her and didn’t expect to find her writing so inspirational. I ended up jotting down a lot of quotes and really appreciating her perspective. A quote that will stick with me: “My Mom says tears are God’s lubricant to get you through the tight spots.” And I always love books with easy tasty recipes! Jann says, “There is something about feeding people you care about that is extremely comforting for both of you.”

From the publisher: “When beloved singer and songwriter Jann Arden’s parents built a house just across the way from her, she thought they would be her refuge from the demands of her career. And for a time that was how it worked. But then her dad fell ill and died, and just days after his funeral, her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In Feeding My Mother, Jann shares what it is like for a daughter to become her mother’s caregiver–in her own frank and funny words, and in recipes she invented to tempt her mom. Full of heartbreak, but also full of love and wonder.”

‘Raymie Nightingale’ by Kate DiCamillo

(Age 10+) What I love about this award winning author for young readers is that she doesn’t talk down to children. She does not spare them the difficult bits of life but presents them in a real and uplifting manner, soul stirring, but focusing on the kinds of things that carry us through hard times, like family and friendship and being challenged in life to courageously keep going when everything seems dismal. I love her perspective and her ability to write literary fiction for children that is captivating for adults as well. There’s hope, humour, and adventure in addition to feeling sadness in your very bones–it’s the stuff of great literature…for kids! Among her award winning novels are books that I own because I want to read them to my grandchildren, often. Among others, books like Because of Winn Dixie (Age 9+) The Tiger Rising (Age 12+), The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Age 7+), and The Magician’s Elephant (Age 8+), and The Tale of Despereaux (Age 9+). Years ago I did a feature post on this author: click here.

DiCamillo introduces us to the ‘Three Rancheros’ in this book. Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana, three 10 year old girls who meet at a baton lesson and become fast friends. They are:
Raymie: whose Dad left town with a dental hygienist and wants to enter the baton throwing context so that her Dad will see her name in the paper and come back
Beverly: who knows how to pick locks and is incredibly brave, but often has unexplained bruises
Louisiana: whose parents are dead and lives with her eccentric Granny, never has enough to eat, is too poor to have furniture or electricity, and is desperately trying not to end up in the social services county home.

(Age 10+) The story of Louisiana carries on seamlessly in this companion novel to Raymie Nightingale. Granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave immediately. A few weeks ago Louisiana would have accepted this without question, but now she can’t bear to leave her new friends Raymie and Beverly and she’s not sure she will ever return!

 

‘Sea Prayer’ by Khaled Hosseini

From the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes a short but powerful picture book for all ages, dedicated to the thousands of refugees who have perished at sea fleeing war and persecution. Enhanced by the illustrations of Dan Williams, it’s a letter from a father to a son, on the eve of their departure. He knows he is doing everything he can to protect his child, but also realizes that his choice will put them in grave danger.

Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe. Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and moved to the United States in 1980. Here is a short documentary from the author about his own journey in writing this book:

 

‘Harry’s Trees’ by Jon Cohen

What a delightful, funny, quirky, uplifting, and satisfying novel. The story has a unique magical quality without actually being a fantasy. It deals with some pretty real and serious stuff like loss, grief, and guilt. It’s a love letter to trees and a testament to the healing power of friendship and love. I liked each character in this book, even the ones who were not so nice. I loved the way the book made me feel while I was reading it and appreciated the twists and turns that made it compelling right to the end. It’s very different from A Man Called Ove but has been likened to it. Here’s the publisher’s blurb to give you an idea of the storyline:

“When you climb a tree, the first thing you do is to hold on tight…Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, he is unable to cope. Leaving his job and his old life behind, Harry makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, determined to lose himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragedy–Amanda stoically holding it together while Oriana roams the forest searching for answers. And in Oriana’s magical, willful mind, she believes that Harry is the key to righting her world. Now it’s time for Harry to let go…After taking up residence in the woods behind Amanda’s house, Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana in a ludicrous scheme to escape his tragic past. In so doing, the unlikeliest of elements–a wolf, a stash of gold coins, a fairy tale called The Grum’s Ledger and a wise old librarian named Olive–come together to create a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wildest dreams and open Harry’s heart to a whole new life.

‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

This non-sentimental and non-judgemental yet very personal story has rendered me speechless and yet I am compelled to discuss it with others who have read it. I keep thinking about it. It was gripping, I had to put it down once in awhile, but then I had to pick it up again. It’s best, I think, to not try to describe it, but to let you discover it on your own. I will say that this remarkable true story not only speaks of family, mental illness, survival, resilience, and child development, but also points beyond (as all good memoirs should) to the vital importance of education.

You may not want to watch this until you have read the book:

‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’ by Bryan Stevenson

“Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.”

From one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time, this is an unforgettable true story about the redeeming potential of mercy and a call to fix a broken system of justice. Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor and wrongly convicted on death row. This book reads like a John Grisham novel, it is hugely compelling and engaging. It is a moving and personal account of stories of courage and integrity that will keep you riveted. I listened to the audio version which is narrated by the author himself. This is a great interview with the author:

If we think problems such as slavery and racism are any better in 2018, we are fooling ourselves. Stories of police violence and racial profiling tell a different story, which is why this is such a critical and important book. Some people even refer to mass incarceration of black people in America as contemporary slavery.

Walter McMillian was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a young white woman who worked as a clerk in a dry clearing store in Monroeville, Alabama. There was no tangible evidence against Mr. McMillian. He was held on Death Row prior to being convicted and sentenced to death. His trial lasted only a day and a half. Three witnesses testified against Mr. McMillian and the jury ignored multiple alibi witnesses, who were black, who testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. The trial judge overrode the jury’s sentencing verdict for life ​​without parole and sentenced Mr. McMillian to death.

Anthony Ray Hinton, another one of Stevenson’s clients, just released a book called The Sun Does Shine, which Oprah Winfrey has endorsed and has already hit mainstream book outlets like Costco. It is a memoir of how Hinton was falsely convicted and released after 30 years. How he talks about a lifetime on death row is truly remarkable.