Sunday 22 November 2015

Books, audiobooks and tea on a snowy morning...

As I peer through the window, it looks like a winter wonderland outside, all fresh and white and fluffy.  OK, I’m not the one who has to shovel the sidewalk or our long driveway, so I understand that not everyone finds this as awesome, bright and beautiful as I do, but really, who doesn’t get excited by the first snow of the season?!  

Speaking of snow, I read a book earlier in the week by BC author Robert Wiersema called Black Feathers.  This novel is told from the point of view of Cassandra (Cassie) Weathers, a 16-year old girl living on the streets of Victoria.  She has recently run away from home and is trying to escape and start fresh, but winter is setting in and the conditions on the streets are tough.  What she is trying to escape from, we are not sure. Alone and frightened, she is befriended by Skylark, another homeless women who, though also young, has much more experience living on the streets.  She invites Cassie to join her at the soup truck, and while enjoying a hot bowl of soup and a bun, she is introduced to "the community" led by charismatic Brother Paul.  Cassie is wary, but she doesn’t know where else to go, and she desperately craves the friendship and guidance Skylark offers.  This arrangement seems like a temporary solution to Cassie’s problems, but she also suffers from night terrors, in which her reality and her dream world are interwoven until she is not sure what is real and what is her imagination.  When one of the women from the community is found dead the next morning, Cassie flees, having dreamt that she killed her, which makes her feel somehow responsible for her death, although she knows this cannot be true.  She is also taken in by Ali, a waitress at a Chinese restaurant with whom she forms an attachment.  Cassie has yet another protector, Constable Harrison, who warns her to be safe, and advises her to return home.  All the while, prostitutes are being murdered in the city at night, and the reader is introduced to the Darkness, the serial killer who is committing these murders.  The jottings and ruminations of the Darkness begin each part of the book, offering insight into his twisted mind.  As Cassie continues to flee and tries to determine what is real and what is all in her imagination, and as the constable tries to find the killer, while also keeping Cassie safe, readers are subjected to gruesome descriptions that seem unnecessarily detailed. The conclusion is finally reached, but it holds little surprise. OK, I occasionally read these types of books, the serial killer/stalker kinds, but this book was so confusing and inconsistent that I struggled to stick with it to the end.  The writing was not bad, particularly Cassie’s dream/wake-state sections, the descriptions were vivid (though sometime too vivid!), and the insight into the struggles faced by the homeless was powerful.  But there are better books like this out there.  In Birdie,Tracey Lindberg also used the dream/wake-state narrative for her main character, and she did so with more skill.  And as for serial killer/stalker books, I preferred Giles Blunt’s book, Hesitation Cut, although I thought it may be too creepy for some readers.  So I guess I’m saying that I would not recommend this book - it wasn’t terrible, but in hindsight, I would have been better off reading something else for those three days.

So I was pleasantly surprised to pick up a book I recently ordered for my school libraries and found it so absorbing that I had trouble putting it down.  The book is The Fall by James Preller, and it is a young adult novel extraordinaire.  This short but intense book explores the inner thoughts of the narrator, Sam Proctor, as he works through his guilt at his possible contribution to the bullying that caused one of his schoolmates, Morgan Mallen, to jump off the water tower one night.  Told in the form of journal entries, this novel perfectly reflects the thought processes of Sam as he reviews the development of his relationship with Morgan, the things he did right and the many things he did wrong, which added to Morgan’s already-heavy burden.  Preller uses cliches aplenty, mostly in a sarcastic way, but he also manages to explore the fundamental truths underlying some of these well-worn beliefs and sayings.  Using the journal as a vehicle to explore his feelings, Sam moves through various stages, first denial, then remorse, and finally forgiveness (“a gift you give yourself”) in a genuine voice that is sure to make readers of all ages identify with and sympathize with this protagonist, who is not really a bad guy, just someone who was not strong enough to stand up to peer pressure, but someone who is openminded enough to learn from his mistakes and try to make things better.  Despite a couple of weak moments, including the introduction of a bit of magic-realism at the end, I thought it was an excellent novel that explores the effects of bullying and cyberbullying in today's society. I would highly recommend this YA novel as a class readaloud for grades 7 and 8, as it is sure to be a great discussion-starter.

And I finished an audiobook this week, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling).  Book 2 of the Cormoran Strike series following The Cuckoo’s Calling, this novel sees Strike and his assistant Robin take on a case to find mildly successful author Owen Quine, who has been missing for about a week.  This is not unusual, as he often takes himself off for a few days, either with his current mistress or just to get away and write.  But this time, he’s been away longer than usual, and his dowdy wife is anxious - when he is away, Leonora is the sole caregiver for their adult developmentally challenged daughter Orlando.  Quine has recently threatened to self-publish a scandalous novel, Bombyx Mori, that reveals the dirty secrets of people he’s known in the writing and publishing world, poorly disguised as characters in the book.  Tired of following cheating husbands so that his clients, wealthy wives, can get rid of them and sue for even more money, Strike accepts this job because of the novelty of a wife actually wanting to find her husband and be reunited, despite his philanderings and notoriety.  What he finds instead is a tangled web of lies and deception, much like the plots of the Jacobean revenge tragedies from which Rowling quotes at the beginning of each chapter.  When a gruesome murder is discovered, everyone comes under suspicion and Strike and Robin must act fast and think creatively to find the evidence that will free the innocent and bring the guilty party to justice. Interesting characters, both honourable and despicable, abound in this lengthy murder mystery, and it was a good, though over-long and unnecessarily complex, listening experience.  I’ll admit that I stopped trying to keep track of the details by the 10th part (there were 17 parts to the audiobook - yikes!), and I was happy to reach the end, if only to have the opportunity to listen to something else.  The narration was great, the development of the relationship between Cormoran and Robin was interesting, and the relationship between Leonora and Orlando was touching, but I didn’t enjoy this book as much as The Cuckoo’s Calling.  It just seemed like it was trying too hard - trying too hard to be complex and clever, and trying too hard to be too literary. The third book in this series, Career in Evil has recently been published, and I’m sure that once it is available as an audiobook, I will download it, but I’m happy to wait for that.

That’s all for today - I think it’s time to go out and play in the snow!

Bye for now…

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