Archive for February, 2011

When Will There Be Good News

Today is that weird holiday in February called Family Day. It’s mid winter, something like -27C outside, anything municipal or provincial is closed up tight, but the Feds are hard at work – how stupid is that?! It’s way too cold to be outside doing anything, the Malls are all closed, and I’ve seen The King’s Speech and Barney’s Version so what else is there to do but sit and read (the laundry does itself). I’m doing something I almost never do.. REread a book. Way back when, I was able to get a copy of Kate Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News?: A Novel at my local library. Lucky me! About a month ago I decided to buy the book since it was on sale in the trade edition for the fantastic price of $9.99 at “that big box bookstore who shall remain nameless”. Anyway, I was just sitting there with my book and a cuppa and laughing my head off when I realized that I just had to write and say READ THIS BOOK!! It is an international bestseller and for good reason. Reggie Chase, Atkinson’s main character, is probably one of the most endearing people ever created on paper. 16 going on 30, she’s a force to be reckoned with, a skillfully trained “life-saver”, a fantastic mother’s helper, and a survivor of the school of hardknocks. Add Jackson Brodie (the well known retired Detective Inspector from Atkinson’s Case Histories and One Good Turn) to the story and you’ve got 2 amazing characters exceptionally well drawn. There is a chapter in the book titled Arma Virumque Cano (yes, latin) that will bring on a fit of giggles in even the most serious of readers. Inspite of that, this is a fantastic mystery… and the ending will blow you away – guaranteed. For heaven sakes … you won’t get a better deal anywhere for $9.99. Go buy this book! And then in years to come you’ll be able to reread it just like I’m doing now and enjoy it just as much as the first time.

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Still Alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a very powerful book. Reading about alzheimer’s isn’t easy, and at times it’s enough to scare you half to death. That little voice in your head is saying … “please, please don’t let this happen to me”. When Alice visits her neurologist and they do all those memory tests on her and you’re thinking geeze – I couldn’t remember that either… it scares the heck out of you. No I’m not neurotic – just gettin’ older. Anyway, this is a story about one woman’s journey through early onset alzheimers. But Dr. Alice Howland is no ordinary woman – she’s a 50 year old Prof from Harvard University, a linguistics Prof of all things. Language is her specialty and she’s slowly losing the capability of distinguishing what people say to her, and finding the right words in her mind to respond. How sad is that! As the seasons change so does her understanding of the world she lives in, and her ability to manage on a day to day level. It’s gut-wrenching. One of the best parts of the book is when Alice stands up in front of a room full of medical people at a conference on alzheimers when she is well on the road to forgetting her past. Easy right… she’s used to lecturing at Harvard. Think again - she has alzheimers and can hardly follow the words on the paper she’s reading from. She tells the audience what it’s like from a patient’s perspective… “My yesterdays are disappearing and my tomorrows are uncertain”.  That’s it in one simple sentence. Her friends and co-workers become strangers, and her BlackBerry becomes her best friend. And her children step up to the plate and have the patience and fortitude necessary to look after an adult who needs the attention of a child. This book has received lots of attention and is well up there on the best-seller lists. It’s different from any of this nature I’ve ever read, thanks in part to the fact that Lisa Genova holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard and is a columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. She knows the subject and she writes about it really well.

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Carol Shields is NOT Hard to Read!

All I can say is … Oh My God!! I stepped into the kitchen and all I heard on the radio was someone saying that Carol Shields was hard to read. And boy, did that ever set me off. So here’s the background to the whole situation. Canada Reads, the annual CBC competition to find the best fiction book in the country is choosing the “Book of the Decade” this year (an impossible exercise if you ask me, but nobody did). The best novel written in Canada during the past 10 years.  One of the finalists is Carol Shield’s book Unless. And someone actually said Carol Shields was hard to read. Everything else they said after that became white noise – I was so angry I just about lost it.  Let’s get this straight CAROL SHIELDS IS NOT HARD TO READ!!!! What are we becoming – dumb & dumber?? It really irks me to think that we’ve slipped so low on the literary screen that people now consider her hard to read. What’s happening to us?!  Boy, I wish I’d been on that panel to counter that opinion with some common sense. For heaven sakes … even Oprah is recommending Dickens!

Sorry for the rant… I really hope that no one pays any attention to that comment if they heard it. Pick up any Carol Shields book and read it. She won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries (she had dual citizenship in Canada & the US that’s how she could win an American prize)… Larry’s Party is an amazing book where the main character is a man and she did an exceptional job with her research on how men feel and what they think about… Happenstance is a really neat story told in the first half of the book from a woman’s perspective, and in the second half from a man’s – same story, just different viewpoints… Swan and The Republic of Love are also wonderful books, and Unless, her last novel before she died, and the one someone on CBC said was hard to read, is probably her best. She was my favourite author, I miss her warm, quirky sense of humour that always shone through her exquisite prose that made you stop and think about what you’d just read. She was an amazing observer of human nature and she wrote about it exceptionally well. If you want to know more about her Google Carol Shields Literary Trust. There’s a wealth of info there to get you immersed in her writing.

Boy, am I ever angry!! Now, what was I doing…

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Everyday Food

For a change of pace –I’m going to recommend a cookbook. And I don’t usually gravitate to anything by Martha Stewart, but she’s written a great book so who cares if it’s by Mrs. Perfect (is there anything this woman can’t do?!).  Everyday Food: Great Food Fast has so many good recipes, they’re easy to make, use only real ingredients (no fake food like yolkless eggs) and they taste terrific. A few of my favourites – sauteed chicken in mustard cream sauce… curried zucchini soup… pureed butternut squash soup… shrimp, tomato and basil pasta… creamy broccoli soup… chicken curry… curried carrot soup (yes, I like to make soup)… beef bulgogi. And there are oodles of ways to do veggies that are really fast, practical and delicious. This book is a winner. It’s soft covered – something that I think all cookbooks should be (who needs to pay all that money for a hardcover when it’s only going to get stained and tattered… or at least it should if it’s well used). Another must for the avid cook.  Check it out and bon appetit!

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The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours is Kate Morton’s 3rd book. It’s a huge book, 560 pages long. Her previous two have been huge hits and no doubt this one will be as well. I started reading it about a week before going away but wasn’t able to finish it beforehand so I had to do something I hate doing – stop reading, read something else (something that didn’t weight a ton when travelling), then resume the previous book. For me, this always detracts from the story and I wasn’t able to get back into it as enthusiastically as I did when I started the book. But I did enjoy it. Just like Sarah’s Key, this book alternates between the present and the past. During WWII children in London were billetted outside the city and 13 year old Meredith ends up at Milderhurst Castle living with 3 sisters, Persephony (aka Percy), Seraphina (aka Saffy) and Juniper Blythe. How about those names… only in British fiction I say. Meredith (aka Merry) loves living there, and she especially loves Juniper who encourages her to write and enjoy the books at her disposal in the castle library. Eventually, much to her disappointment, she returns to her boring, lower class family life in London. In the present day portion of the book, Meredith’s daughter Edith (aka Edie) who works for a publisher, uncovers the mystery of her mother’s life in the dark, damp, old castle in Kent. It’s gothic in nature, full of suspense and mystery and at times you can just picture the musty, old furniture and closed up smell of a castle that has long ago lost it’s lustre. You’ll need to devote a large chunk of your time to read this because you don’t want to be interrupted like I was. Keep the mood going, get involved with the characters, and lose yourself in time and place with this great story.

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Sarah’s Key

I needed a book for travelling and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (published by St. Martin’s Griffin) has been on the best seller’s list for ages so I thought I should give it a try. I finished the entire book, and was only gone for 4 days. The book swings between the past and the present, each chapter alternating in time. It’s the story of the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris where, on July 16, 1942, thousands of Jewish families were locked up for ages before being sent off to Auschwitz. We follow the steps of the Starzynski family throughout their interment. That’s the past part of the story. Fast forwarding to present day Paris, Julia Jarmond works for a magazine that is doing an article on the 60th anniversary of this horrific event, and she becomes obsessed with knowing what happened to 10 year old Sarah Starzynski. The story is riveting, but I would have liked more than a single chapter in each era. Some chapters were only a couple of pages long which I though wasn’t enough time to get thoroughly emersed in the time frame. Also, I could have done without the added story of Julia’s love life – I wasn’t the least bit interested in her troubles with her husband and I felt that part of the plot detracted from the intensity and seriousness of the book. But all in all, I really enjoyed it. The characters are well written, and very interesting. Add it to your list.

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