Friday 20 August 2021

Three books, one post...

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m quite tired out.  Not only did I have a fair bit of running around to do this morning, it’s also warm and muggy, which I find draining.  But I’ve got a tall, cool glass of water and a bowl of fresh local fruit to re-energize me as I write this rather brief post.

Since my last post, I read a book that was recommended to me by my super-reader friend.  The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting:  Wannsee and the Final Solution by Mark Roseman details the evolution of the treatment of Jews by Hitler and the Nazis before and during WWII, with a focus on the activities that led up to the meeting at Wannsee in January 1942.  This meeting, held in a posh Berlin suburb, was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich and was attended by representatives from all the major Nazi agencies, where together they hashed out the details of what would become known as “the Final Solution”.  Prior to this meeting, there were mass shootings of prisoners and random killings of citizens for no apparent reason, but until this meeting, which, by the way, was not attended by Hilter, there were no actual plans to systematically round Jews up and transport them to concentration camps for extermination. This was very interesting, and it was also, thankfully, brief.  After The Zookeeper’s Wife, this was almost "SS overload".  I had to get this from the library as an inter-library loan, so it might be difficult to access if you are interested in reading it.  Not being a fan of non-fiction, it says something about the quality of the information and the writing that I stuck with it and read it in about five days, so if you are interested in reading more about this subject, this would be a good choice.

Then I read Matters of Hart by Montreal author Marianne Ackerman.  I don’t know how this novel came to be sitting on my personal bookshelves, but I was going through some books that I thought I could give away and this one was in the pile. When I opened it up, I was drawn in immediately and had to keep reading.  Hart Granger is celebrating his fiftieth birthday at a surprise party planned by his ex-wife Sandrine.  She has invited fifty guests from various points in Hart’s life, so not everyone knows everyone else, leading to some awkwardness.  But his sister Amanda is there, along with his mother, Kitty, so things are rolling along fairly well until there is a knock at the door and in walks Neil, the half-brother who was given up for adoption as a baby.  This throws a wrench in the plans and things, for Hart anyway, begin to spiral downward at an increasingly rapid rate.  What follows is a display of adult sibling rivalry taken to the extreme.  At times hilarious, at others heart-wrenching, this novel was what I would call an “undiscovered gem” hidden away on my shelves.  I’m so glad I didn’t just give it away sight unseen, or I would never have discovered this amazing writer.  I’ll definitely check out other books by Ackerman.

And I read a Young Adult book from my school library collection, Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  This novel, told almost exclusively in the form of a screenplay, interspersed with jottings in a notebook, is a courtroom drama that follows the trial of Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old African American boy charged with participating in the plan to rob a neighbourhood drugstore, a robbery which resulted in the shooting death of the owner.  Since Steve is writing the screenplay in his own head, a mechanism he is using to cope with his incarceration, readers are treated to his own thoughts and feelings, his perspective on the trial as well as the words and actions of the others in the courtroom.  This was a book that sucked me right in, one I finished in just two days.  It was powerful and thought-provoking, not obviously tackling the theme of racism in the way that The Hate U Give did, yet that theme is always there, lying just below the surface.  It was a very interesting read, one I will recommend to my Grade Eight teacher as a possible read-aloud.  

That’s all for today.  Stay cool, keep reading and enjoy the last days of August!  

Bye for now…

Monday 9 August 2021

It's been a while...

It’s been almost three weeks since my last post, and I have three books to tell you about today as I sip my steeped chai and eat a bowl of delicious fresh Ontario fruit.  But this is going to be Speed Blogging, a bit like Speed Dating, as I have my friend (and biggest blog fan!) coming over for a visit in just over an hour.  So here goes…

The first book I read since my last post was The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine.  This book tells the story of Addison, a young photographer who is about to get married to a wonderful man, but she’s not as happy as she should be.  A few years ago, she was found bleeding by the side of the road and was taken in by a wonderful couple who helped her get back on her feet, but since then, she’s suffered from severe amnesia and can’t remember who she was before her rescue.  Julian is a psychiatrist who has been searching for his wife for over two years.  He has been telling his daughter daily that mommy will come home soon, but how will he find her? And who, of all the people in her life, can Addison trust?  A page-turner for sure, but not nearly as good as it could have been.  If you are looking for a thriller with this type of plot, I would recommend Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson, a truly fantastic read.

Next I read Unsettled Ground by Irish author Claire Fuller, which was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.  It focuses on twins Jeanie and Julius, fifty-one years old, both single and still living with their mother, Dot, in a run-down cottage on the fringes of a small village.  When their mother dies suddenly, they are left to their own devices and must try to make their way through life together using whatever skills they have.  As if this wasn’t frightening enough, as they try to forge a life from what they know, day by day this knowledge is shattered, and everything they have believed their whole lives is called into question.  This literary masterpiece was also a page-turner, but one that demanded attention to language and character development.  It was a fabulous book, tackling serious issues gracefully and with compassion.  I would highly recommend it and will seek out other novels by this author.

And last but not least, I read The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.  This non-fiction title was the selection for my Volunteer Book Club, which met on Saturday morning.  This book details the lives of Jan and Antonina Zabinska, keepers of the Warsaw Zoo before and during WWII.  The lives they saved, the adventures they had, the creative ways they hid “Guests”, both legitimate and not, and the way they handled tricky situation made a serious impression on all the members of the group.  We thought Jan was “fearless, brave and clever”.  We were amazed at the complexity of the Underground.  We thought that, at that time, everyone had to make choices, and those choices were often between life and death.  We were horrified by the “cruel (psychological) games” some of the Nazis engaged in.  We thought it had so much detail and so many people that it was hard to keep track of everything and everyone, but that it was a worthwhile read if only to offer a “window into the Underground, the Resistance”.  We felt that it was called The Zookeeper’s Wife because up until recently, war stories have mainly focused on the actions of men, and the many and varied roles of women have been largely forgotten or ignored.  We all agreed that we would never survive in a similar situation, that we would be caught out in a lie almost immediately because we wouldn’t be able to keep track of what we told and to whom.  Thankfully the only battle we are facing right now is against COVID-19!

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…