Sunday 31 August 2014

Books and tea on a long weekend...

On this lazy, hot, humid Sunday morning, I’m sipping my not-so-steaming cup of chai as I think about what I’ve read and listened to over the past week.  I’m especially grateful for the extra day on this holiday weekend, to get a head start on my reading for next week and the week after, as I have a book club meeting on Saturday and another the following Thursday… no problem determining what I’ll be reading over the next two weeks!
I read two books last week, one Canadian literary mystery and one juvenile fiction title.  Local Customs by Audrey Thomas got a pretty positive recommendation from one of my fellow committee members, so after reading her “review”, I put it on hold at the library and promptly forgot what it was about.  When I picked it up and started reading it, I thought it was going to be a boring love story, but it turned out to be so much more than it seemed.   Letitia “Letty” Landon, known as “L.E.L.” to her readers, is a successful, well known poet, much sought after to attend social events in 1830s London.  But, at thirty-six, she fears she will never marry and may well become the pitied “dear Auntie” who gets offered the last crumpet at tea.  When she meets George Maclean at a friend’s party, she immediately sees this as the only opportunity she may get to fetch a husband, and so she (rather shamelessly) pursues him in the days and weeks after the party.  A native of Scotland, George is currently the governor of the Gold Coast in West Africa, just at the end of the slave trade.  When he is eventually convinced that he wants to marry Letty, he warns her that the Gold Coast will offer nothing like the lively social surroundings to which she is accustomed.   She admits that this is true, but assures him that she is well and truly ready for a change, and that she can write anywhere, while secretly believing that they would stay in West Africa for a few years, then retire to a cozy London cottage with a fireplace.  Off they go on a ship destined for the Gold Coast, a voyage during which Letty is violently and ceaselessly ill, but once arrived at the castle (which is nothing like the castles in England), they settle into a kind of routine.  When Letty casually inquires what George has planned for the future, he replies that this is where he belongs, that he has no plans to return the Britain or Scotland, that he plans to be buried where he is.  Letty begins to grow frustrated with the life she is living, with Brodie Cruikshank as her only friend.  Brodie is a colonial administrator and fellow Englishman, who is in Africa, but not nearly as committed as George to his life there. While she falls in love with Brodie, he is blissfully unaware, and returns to England, leaving Letty in despair.  Eight weeks after her arrival on the Gold Coast, she is dead, supposedly by her own hand.  This we know right from the start, and it is her ghost, along with chapters narrated by George, Brodie, and Thomas Freeman, a mulatto preacher whose father was a freed slave and his mother a Caucasian British citizen, who offers details and works toward setting the record straight.  Based on real people and a true story the author encountered when she was in Ghana in the 1960s, this novel weaves historical facts and fictional details to speculate on this “true crime” mystery.  Perhaps you can now understand my difficulty in categorizing such a complex novel.   It was a literary mystery, a bit of a (not-so-boring) love story (were Letty and George ever “in love”?), a brief dip into the world of African superstition and local customs, a historical look at missionaries and the end of slavery, and the impacts these events had on Africa and the UK at the time. There was always a strong sinister tone underlying the story, and you never really knew who or what to believe.  I loved it! The writing was superb, although I did find it a bit difficult to follow at times, with the different narrators.  Still, I would recommend it to just about anyone who enjoys literary mysteries, or fictive treatments of mysterious real-life deaths or disappearances.  Note:  if you are now interested in reading this book and either head to the bookstore to buy a copy or put one on hold at your local library, please, please, please do not be put off by the rather unremarkable cover – the contents are amazing!
I also read The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, for something a bit “lighter”.  This novel tells the story of a tiny mouse, a beautiful princess, an evil rat, and soup.  Despereaux is the only surviving baby in the litter, and his mother, Antoinette, names him Despereaux, which means “disappointment”.  She is disappointed that he is the only survivor, that he is so tiny, and that he is the last baby she will ever have.  He does not behave the same way that other mice do, preferring to read the pages, not chew them, and approaching the Princess Pea rather than scurrying away from her and her father, the King.  He falls in love with the princess, and discovers, through a harsh punishment assigned to him by the Mouse High Council, that the evil rat Roscuro is planning to harm her.  He doesn’t believe that he is strong enough or brave enough to save her, but he’s read enough fairy tales to be convinced that “happily ever after” really can come true, and that he may have what it takes to be her “knight in shining armour”.  This novel is appropriate for middle grade children, as there are some truly dark sections that may frighten some children or turn them away.  It is my opinion that it might be best read aloud, which is what I am planning to do this school year with my grade four class (I better start practicing my French accent now!).  Kate DiCamillo is an awesome children’s author and a Newbery Award winner.  Although it is a children’s book, focusing on such themes as loyalty, friendship and bravery, I found it to be a delightful read, a real “feel-good” book. 
I also finished listening to Dry Bones:  the Enzo Files, Book 1 by Peter May.  I listened to a later book in this series a while ago and quite enjoyed it, so went back to start at the beginning.  This series features Enzo Macleod, a forensic specialist in Paris who, as a result of a bet with a writer, is undertaking to uncover the truth and finally bring closure to six old cases featured in a book recently published by this writer using new scientfic techniques.  This first book has Enzo trying to discover what happened to  Jacques Guillard, a brilliant but controversial political figure who disappeared 10 years earlier.  With the help of his daughter Sophie and psychologist Charlotte, as well as Nicole, one of his students, he uncovers buried body parts and complex clues which lead him further and further into the mystery.  It was an enjoyable listening experience, with an excellent narrator, Simon Vance, and I always think it’s best to start at the beginning with series.  Having said that, I found the plot almost too complex to follow, but at some point I gave up trying to keep track of things and just listened.  One of the problems with audiobooks is that all the books in a series may not be available, making it difficult to listen to them in order.  I will try to find others in this series to download, as I enjoy Enzo as a character, and this narrator is excellent.    
OK, that’s all for today.  Happy Labour Day weekend, everyone!

Bye for now…

Sunday 24 August 2014

Book thoughts on a lazy Sunday morning...

I was at a BBQ yesterday with a group of friends, and we had a wonderful time, with great food, good friends and excellent conversation, so I’m a bit tired and kind of lazy today.  And I think I’m allowed to do nothing but read and drink yummy chai tea, as I go back to work tomorrow, after eight weeks off.  I’m ready to go back, but it’ll be tough the first few days to adjust to the schedule again. 
Speaking of going back to work, I’ve always been in the mindset where, at the end of August, I would think of the coming season as a “new start”; I guess having been a student off and on for so long that I never lost the association of September with a new school year.  Well, now I am an elementary school librarian, so I can use that as an excuse for this, since it really is a new school year beginning.  I always feel like it’s time to clean up, get organized and start fresh, much more so than in in January, which of course really is the beginning of a new year.  Some of the things I’ve been doing to get ready for the start of the school year have been going through closets and dressers to purge clothing, which has been donated to local charities, and going through bookshelves to get rid of unwanted or unread titles.  These I have distributed in a few different ways.  Yesterday I brought a bag of books to a small community “free library” near my house.  This small enclosed box is associated with the nearby community garden, and one of the members of the garden said her husband built the “library”.  It is a place where people can drop off books to share, and take books to read.  I’ve seen a few of these little libraries around town and I think it is an awesome idea.  I also brought some of my books to a second hand book shop to exchange for credit.  I love to browse second hand bookstores, so I support them by both buying and selling quality books.  The one I go to most, both because it is close to my place and because it has a fabulous selection, is A Second Look Books in downtown Kitchener (  The staff there are helpful and knowledgeable, and the ambiance suits me perfectly when I’m in the mood to browse the shelves for a hidden gem or if I’m on a mission to find a particular title.  Anyway, I still have a box of books that I think I will just put out on my front lawn on a day when no rain is expected and hope that there will be enough foot traffic and interested passers-by to find these books new homes.
Also because school is starting soon, I’ve read a couple of juvenile fiction titles that are recent additions to my library, as I want to start doing more “book talks” to the older grades at school.  I have found that if I talk about a book, students will want to take it out and read it.  This is a good thing, as I believe inspiring a love of books and reading in children is so very important, especially these days, when most kids seem to be only interested in computers and things they can do online (not including ebooks!).  I guess it’s always been this way… in my day, it was TV that parents were worried about and kids loved.  
Anyway, when I present a book talk, I feel more confident if I’ve actually read the book, rather than just read reviews, so I read two children's novels last week.  The first was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  You may be familiar with this title, as it was made into a film in 2011 entitled “Hugo”, directed by Martin Scorsese, which I believe won some Oscars.  I haven’t seen the film, but the book was amazing.  I haven’t read a lot of children’s fiction, but this one was so interesting and different that it held my attention through the entire (graphic) novel.  Set in 1930s Paris, it tells the story of orphaned boy Hugo Cabret, whose father perished in a fire at the museum, forcing Hugo to live with his drunken uncle Claude, who tends the clocks at the Paris railway station and has an apartment behind the walls of the station.  When his uncle does not return from a night out, Hugo takes on the task of tending the clocks in order to conceal this absence from the Station Master.  He returns to the site of the fire and discovers an automaton, a mechanical figure that appears to have the ability to draw or write, but it is broken, so Hugo determines to fix it in order to see if it would write a message from his father.  Hugo has been pilfering small parts from the toy shop in the station to aid him in this project, as well as milk and food whenever he can find it, but one day the toy store owner, Papa Georges, catches him in the act.  He is punished, but manages to endear himself to the owner, and begins working for him, repairing toys and helping out in the shop.  Hugo is also befriended by Isabelle, the owner’s god-daughter, and together they have a few adventures in bookshops, libraries and cinemas.  It is during one of these adventures that Hugo discovers the true identity of the toy store owner, Georges Méliès, a former filmmaker, who has been thought dead for many years, the man who directed his father's favourite film.  When he discovers this connection between Georges and his own father, Hugo begins to feel once again that he belongs somewhere, that he is not completely abandoned.  Told in text and illustrations, this novel is both inspiring and historically interesting, as it was based on the life and experiences of pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès, who, despite early fame, ended up destitute.  This was a wonderful reading experience, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.  Note:  Don’t be alarmed at the size of the book, as it is part text and part graphic novel, so can easily be read and appreciated in a couple of hours.  But don’t just skim the illustrations, really take the time to study them, as if you are “reading” each page.  Selznick both wrote and illustrated this book.
Last Wednesday morning I woke up and decided to go to Toronto for the day, so I grabbed a lightweight paperback to read on the bus.  The book I chose to take was Last Message by Shane Peacock, part of the “Seven” series.  This series is comprised of seven books written by seven different Canadian authors to represent the seven grandsons of adored, heroic, brave grandfather David McLean.  When McLean passes away, he leaves instructions for seven missions, one assigned to each of his grandsons, to be completed.  These missions are tasks McLean did not undertake while still alive, but which he feels responsible to accomplish in order to compensate for some of the “less heroic” things he did in his life.  While these assignments reveal a less-than-flattering side of the grandfather they all adored, each grandson must learn to accept the man he really was and to prove himself by completing the tasks.  In Last Message, sixteen-year old Adam, the only American grandson, is sent to France to complete not one, but three missions,each more difficult (and possibly illegal) than the one before.  Can Adam find the courage and strength to complete even one of these tasks and prove to his grandfather that he really can “amount to something”?  I wasn’t sure whether I would like this book, but I started it soon after we departed and kept reading until we pulled into Union Station.  It was riveting!  There was action, adventure, romance, history, France, cute French waitresses, Antoine de Saint Exupéry… what more could an older child, young adult, or this adult reader ask for?  Well-written and engaging, this page-turner was a delight to read, and I look forward to reading other in this series, although I realize that, since each is written by a different author, they will all be, well, different, both in tone and writing style.  Some of the other authors who have contributed books to this series are Eric Walters, John Wilson, Norah McClintock and Ted Staunton.  As an aside, I just discovered that there will be another series released in October of this year, “Seven:  the Sequels”;  I’m very excited about putting those on order for my library, too!
 That’s all for today.  Enjoy the last week of August!

Bye for now…

Sunday 17 August 2014

Books, movies and tea on a sunny Sunday morning

I’m enjoying a cup of chai tea and a delicious Vanilla Scone from Future Bakery this morning as I think about the book I read in the last few days of last week, a book that I couldn’t put down.  I forgot to mention in my post last Sunday that I bought a new mug while I was in Owen Sound, a beautiful piece by Kate McLaren ( that I can now use as an alternate to that special chai tea mug from St Jacob’s I’ve been using for several years now.

After finishing the new Robotham novel on Wednesday, I decided to try a book I’d just picked up at the library by Montreal author Arjun Basu.  In this debut novel, Joe is a successful thirty-five year old advertising copywriter in New York who is beginning to feel dissatisfied with his job and his life.  A year later, his dissatisfaction deepens, and he begins to "float" – he sees his life from above, and suddenly he feels better, new, improved.  And then he begins to dream... in his dreams he sees the Man, a thin black man with a floppy hat who looks like a 70's pimp, sometimes riding a horse.  Sometimes the Man speaks to Joe in his dreams, offering words of encouragement, telling him “things will get better”.  Joe begins to long for sightings of the Man, once these visits start occurring during waking hours.  The Man tells him to "wait", so he does just that, waits for direction while sitting on the front steps of his apartment.  As his story reaches a larger audience than just his immediate neighbours, so too does the crowd of individuals who wish to be part of and possibly profit from Joe's unusual experience.  He manages to attain a certain minor celebrity status, literally by doing nothing but waiting.  When he is instructed by the Man to "go west", a minivan is provided for him, and he sets off with a large media entourage to search for answers from somewhere, without knowing where he is headed.  It is really about the American Dream, going on a road trip to find happiness, but a 21st century road trip that is documented by the minute and broadcast around the world for all to see and follow.  The absurdity of this scenario is not lost on Joe, and yet he is reluctant to leave the comfort of his entourage. When he finally lets go, this reader was left with a feeling of peace and a sense of freedom from life’s pressures.  Whether he was happier in the end was not terribly clear, but perhaps he managed to reach the extent of happiness one can reasonably expect in this world. The novel is told in two voices from different points in the story, one as he searches for something more meaningful in life, the other from the Ranch and Spa in Montana where he has ended his journey.  This short novel has very little in the way of plot, but I couldn’t put it down and read it in two days.  The writing is amazing, and so very insightful.  Basu presents so many life truths that nearly every page had something on it I wanted to underline (which I would never do!!) Darkly humourous, yet deeply philosophical, it is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, despite a rather weak final chapter.  Think Will Ferguson’s Happiness meets Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry.  I would probably recommend it to most readers, especially males of a certain age (I’ve already sent a personal recommendation to a friend in Toronto who I think would really enjoy this novel).  I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning to buy a copy for myself – yes, buy it, new, in hardcover, not even discounted!  I can’t remember when I last did that – then I can underline as much as I want!  Anyway, excellent book that I would definitely recommend.
I also wanted to talk about books and movies.  My husband and I are planning to see the film, “A Most Wated Man”, sometime next week.  This film is based on a novel by John Le Carré.  I was on the bus one day last week and I saw a guy reading this book, with a movie cover, so it was a new edition, and I wondered if he had already seen the film or wanted to read the book first.  In my opinion, the book is nearly always better, so reading the book first with the intention of seeing the movie shortly thereafter is probably a bad idea, as it will likely lead to inevitable disappointment with the film.  When I went to see the film version of Life of Pi, I did not reread the book, as I wanted to be able to experience the film and judge it on what it had to offer in terms of story, character, setting – in short, on its own merits, separate from the book.  Film and books are different types of media, and rely on different strengths and ways to reach the audience, so comparing them is not really fair.  I read an article recently by an author who was talking about having her book made into a film and what that experience was like for her.  She said something like this:  When an author sells the rights to a director, he or she must allow the director to create a work as they see it.  The author gives up control of film version, and has to let it go.  Of course we understand this, but imagine how difficult it would be for an author do to such a thing.  I can think of times when I’ve seen a film version of a book I loved and have been outraged by the treatment the film gave the story – and it’s not even my book!  So kudos to authors who are willing to sell the rights to their books, as they don’t know what will become of their stories once they are on screen.
That’s all for today.  Get out and enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Advance praise for a not-yet-released title...

I don’t usually write mid-week like this, but I felt I must do so today for a couple of reasons.  It is cool, overcast and windy today, feeling more like October than mid-August.  I've got a cup of tea in front of me, and I’ve just finished reading a book that is due to hit the Canadian bookstores the first week of October.  Since I felt this was more than a coincidence, I felt I had to write something about this book now.
Although it hasn’t been officially released, I have a review copy of Michael Robotham’s latest title, a standalone thriller set in Texas called Life or Death, and I can tell you that I read it in three days – it took me that long to finish because I had to force myself to stop occasionally to do such things as eat and sleep.  This novel tells the story of Audie Palmer, a man imprisoned for ten years for his involvement in an armed robbery during which four people were killed.  He was shot in the head and not expected to survive, but he did.  Now, on the day before he is to be released from prison, he escapes.  The next 400 pages explains why he did this, and we as readers are pulled along on this roller-coaster ride that will have you staying up late into the night to read “just one more chapter”.  Filled with complex characters, plots that twist and turn on every page while remaining believable, and language that can capture the essence of an idea or create whole scenarios in very few words, this novel is sure to win fans where they may not have existed before.  Australian writer Robotham gave up his career as a newspaper reporter and began ghostwriting before venturing into the world of writing under his own name.  One of his first ghostwriting projects was Empty Cradles by Margaret Humphreys, a British social worker who, in the mid-1980s, began investigating the forcible relocation of poor British children to Australia, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries.  This book was made into a film, “Oranges and Sunshine” in 2011.  Ten years ago, he wrote his first mystery thriller, The Suspect, which is one of my favourite suspense novels.  He followed with one book each year, all of them featuring either Professor Joseph O’Loughlin or Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, or sometimes both.  If you recall, last autumn I wrote a post about his latest O’Loughlin/Ruiz book, Watching You, which was excellent.  Well, this book is every bit as good as his previous ones.  Different setting.  Different characters.  Same great writing and intense plotting.  This novel is thrilling, suspenseful and heartwrenching, all at the same time.  Robotham has a gift for creating complex plots with real characters that will keep you breathlessly turning pages until the very last word.  I’ve been reading his books for years, but I guess he is not very well known, even in his native Australia (I thought he was British – shame on me!)  This book, as Robotham explains on his website ( based on a story he read in the newspaper 20 years ago, about a man who served a long prison sentence and escaped on the day before he was due to be released.  He claims to have been thinking about this case for the past 20 years, and has finally found the courage and skill to write the story.  I wondered why he set this one in Texas - perhaps to draw in the North American market?  I found his use of colloquial language and spelling a bit over-the-top at first, but I quickly got into the rhythm of the language and stopped noticing his use of “sumpin’” for “something”, and other such terms.  I would highly recommend getting your name on the Holds’ list at your local library if you like reading complex, suspenseful, psychological thrillers that are difficult to put down and leave you wishing for more.

Bye for now…

Sunday 10 August 2014

Post during the "Dog Days" of summer...

So far this summer, we’ve been experiencing cooler, sometimes wetter, weather, which is OK with me.  During this past week though, while at the cottage, we had some hot, sultry days (“dog days”) when it was the ideal time to sit on the deck and listen to the birds, the lapping of the bay, drink tea and read.  Doesn’t that sound perfect?!  But now I’m home again, and I miss the sound of the water.  Still, tea and birdsong will be part of my days for a while yet, as I have two more weeks until I go back to work.
While I was away, I finished reading a collection of short stories by Bill Gaston entitled Juliet was a Surprise:  stories.  I am not an enthusiastic short story reader, and can recall reading only two complete collections in my adult life, The Tattooed Woman by Marian Engel and a collection by Budge Wilson, a Nova Scotia writer, called Courtship.  Anyway, I devoured the stories in Gaston’s collection, finding them simultaneously sinister, bizarre, and compelling.  Some of the plots involve a vacationing professor who encounters a young couple at his rented cabin and believes that they are plotting to attack and possibly kill him; an arborist who suffers professional crisis when he is asked to cut down a 70-foot deodara unnecessarily; an arena manager whose real interest lies in writing and submitting extremely bad passages for a romantic writing contest; a couple who go to Mexico to break up; and a pizza delivery boy who thinks he’s witnessing a magical occurrence.  All of these stories are separate, but somehow linked by the main characters’ inability to connect with his or her significant other, or with reality as others see it.  These stories are also connected by sex, and the reader encounters several adult male virgins throughout the book.  While I am familiar with Gaston’s name, I know almost nothing about him, but I am definitely interested now in checking out his previous writings, especially some of his earlier novels, as he certainly has a gift with words.
I also read The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason for my book group, which met yesterday.  I have read this novel before, and enjoyed it both times.  Based on a true story, it is a coming of age story set in the 1960s in the small town in New Brunswick where the author grew up.  Ruby Carson is 14 years old and is experiencing some bullying from other girls at her school.  Her younger brother, Percy, is “eccentric”, but possibly the smartest kid Ruby knows.  Her mother is an artist, and her father works for the government.  Already feeling like she doesn’t belong, when at a winter church skating party Ruby falls through the ice, bumps her head and has a vision of the townspeople floating by her underwater, she becomes a total outcast and is teased relentlessly by the other students and children in the town.  When it is later announced that the town will be flooded to build a hydro-electric dam, the townspeople accuse Mr. Carson of having foreknowledge of this event, since he works for the government, albeit in a completely different department.  At first people rally against this decision, then resign themselves to it and make the necessary plans to accommodate the changes, representing one of the main themes of the novel, that life is unpredictable and we must choose how we deal with the events and circumstances with which we are faced.  There is also a love story, as Ruby meets a boy from Ontario, Troy, who inspires her with the confidence to stand up to the bullies and fight back.  One of my book club members pointed out that, in the 1960s, people with eccentricities were just accepted as part of the fabric of the community, but now we have labels for everything:  Percy would have been autistic, Miss Stairs is a hoarder, and June and Linda are bullies.  Is this better or worse, to be labelled?  We were undecided on that point.  This is generally considered a Young Adult book, based on the collection in which it is housed in the public library, but it can definitely be read and appreciated by adults.  It is told in a gentle way that conveys the themes of the novel from the point of view of a teen, but like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, this novel can be read and appreciated on many levels, and by different age groups.  For example, most young adults experience bullying at some point, or at least fear being different from their peers - they all want to fit in.  Most also want to find romance, and are exploring their own gifts, whether academic, athletic, or artistic.  For adults, we may be better able to identify the symbolic aspects of the novel, such as the untrustworthiness of the government, and the dam as a necessary evil which will lead to the convenience that a new town offers.  There were so many themes and characters to discuss that we ran out of time, but let me just say that everyone loved this book, and the discussion was interesting and lively.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good story told using a traditional structure, or to anyone who enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  And don’t be put off by the fact that this award-winning novel is considered Young Adult – you’ll love it!
Not sure what I will read next – there are so many books piled on my coffee table that I don’t know what to choose.  I’m hoping for a good, productive reading week to come.

Bye for now…

PS My group has convinced me, by unanimous vote, to change our book selection for November from Anna Karenina to Watership Down.  I can't quite understand why everyone was so reluctant to read the Tolstoy novel, but for months now, they've been dreading this selection and complaining at every meeting.  Perhaps it is due to the nearly 1000 pages of small print... anyway, like the townspeople in Nason's novel, I demonstrated my ability to change and have reassigned the selection for November, by popular vote.

Friday 1 August 2014

Books, audiobooks and tea on the first day of August...

We have rented a cottage for a week and are headed there tomorrow, so I wanted to take this opportunity to write an early post while listening to CBC and enjoying my cup of tea this morning.
I read a wonderful book this week, All My Puny Sorrows by Mariam Toews.  You may be familiar with this author’s name in connection with her most popular work so far, Governor General’s Award winner A Complicated Kindness, about a defiant young Mennonite girl growing up in a small town in Manitoba.  This novel is said to be autobiographical, and so, too, is her newest title.  All My Puny Sorrows, whose title refers to a line in a poem by Coleridge to his dead sister, tells of two sisters, Elfrieda and Yolandi, who couldn’t be more different.  Elfrieda, or Elf, is a beautiful, world renowned classical pianist with a loving husband, Nic, and all the wealth that her talent has afforded.  She lives in Winnipeg near their mother.  She is also determined to end her life.  Yolandi, or Yoli, is a struggling writer of young adult books, the Rodeo Rhonda series, although she carries around the manuscript of a literary novel.  She has two children from two different fathers, and is going through her second divorce.  She lives in Toronto, and doesn’t know where her life is leading, but she definitely wants to stick around to find out.  The novel opens with Yoli returning to Winnipeg to be with Elf in the hospital after she has attempted suicide.  She has determined that it is her duty to keep Elf alive, and she does her best to coax the will to live from her.  There are reminiscences about their childhood in East Village, and the Elders who disapproved of the girls’ behaviour.  She tries to get Elf excited about her upcoming concert tour, and to coax her into living if only for the sake of Nora and Will, Yolis two children.  We learn of their father’s suicide by train when they were young, and how they used the money he had in his pockets to buy takeout food, because, “at times like these… you still have to eat”.  What Elf really wants is not to die alone, and begs Yoli to take her to Switzerland, where it is legal to assist someone who suffers “weariness of life” to die.  While this book is desperately sad, it is also, at times, darkly humourous, and the moments of insight, particularly about becoming middle-aged, are spot on.  It is not just about suicide and death, but about grief and grieving, and what our responsibilities to our family members are.  The girls’ mother is also an amazing character, from whom Yoli, and this reader, took inspiration and strength.  Toews’ own father committed suicide, and her sister followed ten years later, which may be the reason the characters and experiences in the book are so “real”.  While it is heartbreaking, it is also inspiring and uplifting, and I would hate to dismiss this as just “a book about suicide”.  It is broad in themes and beautifully written.  It brought back memories of Helen Humphrey’s Nocturne (too self-indulgent, and not as compelling, at least to me) and Edeet Ravel’s The Cat (also very good, but much sadder, in my opinion, and narrower in focus).  I did not enjoy A Complicated Kindness, and so was reluctant to pick up another book by this author, but I’m so glad I did, as it was an amazing book that I would feel comfortable recommending to just about anyone.    
On a lighter note, I’m nearly finished listening to The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson, narrated by Simon Vance, which is fabulous.  It is the second in a series, but the first I’ve listened to, and features two barristers, brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath, who lease the office at 221B Baker Street for their chambers.  As part of their leasing contract, they agree to respond promptly by form letter to any mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.  This is Nigel’s job, and Reggie generally lets him take care of it.  But one day a letter catches his eye, one offering a tip about the case he is working on at the moment, involving a black cab driver accused of murdering an American couple.  Reggie follows this tip, and discovers that it is not only useful, but that its origin is suspect.  As murder follows murder, and leads disappear, Reggie begins to fear that Moriarty, or some descendent of his, has returned to take revenge on the inhabitants of 221B Baker Street, no matter who they are.  I’m really enjoying this witty, suspenseful, light novel, and the narrator is fabulous, too.  I’ve downloaded the first book, The Baker Street Letters, and look forward to listening to it sometime soon.  It’s interesting that I’ve discovered these books, purely by chance, because I’ve just finished watching Season 3 of “Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman, which I also really enjoyed.  Encouraged by this BBC series and now this book, I think I will read some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (shamefully, I’ve never read any, so I will plan to do so soon – I have two collections upstairs on my bookshelf right now).
OK, that’s enough posting for this week.  I’ve got lots to do to get ready for the cottage.  Have a great week!
Bye for now...