Sunday 20 March 2016

Books and tea on the first day of Spring...

It’s a bright, gorgeous, brisk, sunny morning as I sip my steaming chai and think about the books I’ve read over the past week.  Since it was March Break, I had planned to read at least three books, but managed to finish only two.

The first book I read is a Silver Birch fiction nominee called Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang.  It tells the story of Joe “Jelly” Miles, an average grade 6 student who would rather be playing video games with his friend Parker “P.B.” than preparing for a school speech competition.  But when he sees what this year’s prize is, a brand new tablet computer with all the accessories, he is convinced to take it seriously.  Class know-it-all and mean-girl Victoria goads him on, and he is more determined than ever to win the competition, but for a very different reason.  When nasty rumours begin to fly, Jelly has to be creative to debunk them while still maintaining his integrity.  He is also coaxed into helping out P.B.’s sister at the local food bank, where he discovers hidden talents, new friends and much about his community.  When the final competition day arrives, will Jelly have the courage to stand up in front of the whole school and do his best to win, while still holding on to what he truly believes in?  This book has everything you could want to find in a book geared to readers in grades 4-6:  it has a male protagonist, but there is a “love story”, too, so it would appeal to both girls and boys.  It’s funny, and easy to read, and has a strong message about values and friendship and community initiatives.  And there are lots of scenes with video games!  What more could a reader want?!  I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it to readers of any age as a fun read that still manages to address serious topics.

And I read a recently published novel by Canadian author Billie Livingston, The Crooked Heart of Mercy.  This novel tells the story of three characters who are all bound together by tragic circumstances:  Maggie, a young mother who has recently lost her toddler son, Frankie, and is trying to get her life back together; Ben, Maggie’s husband, whose life spirals out of control after the loss of Frankie and ends up in a psyche ward after shooting himself in the head; and Maggie’s brother, Francis, a passionate priest who is an occasional alcoholic, occasionally celibate, and gay.  Maggie had worked as a housecleaner and companion for elderly clients before Frankie’s death.  When the bills pile up and she re-enters the workforce after the tragedy, one of her new clients is Lucy, an 80-year-old widow who becomes increasingly reliant on Maggie for companionship.  When Maggie asks if she wouldn’t like her to vacuum or do the dishes instead of just sitting with her, Lucy replies that some rich guy once said, “You don’t get paid by the hour.  You get paid for the value you bring to the hour.”  I loved this quotation, because it helped Maggie to begin to see that she is still a valuable person, despite the guilt she suffers over the death of her son.  Her life still has meaning and purpose, just different from before.  Francis also needs to find his way, his true calling, and the strength to manage his passions, both religious and secular.  And Ben must also overcome the guilt he feels over the tragedy and find a way to begin anew.  Together, these three characters must support each other and somehow find a way to keep on living, in the face of tragedy and adversity.  This short novel was heartbreaking and yet uplifting, and offered insight into the thoughts of these three very different and yet very believable characters.  I found Ben’s character the most challenging, and Francis’ story the most touching, but they all work together to give this novel complexity, dark humour and diversity.  I would recommend this to just about anyone who enjoys a tragic story with an uplifting ending.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!
Bye for now…

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