Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"All My Puny Sorrows" by Miriam Toews

What do you do when someone you love wants you to help them die?

Elfrieda and Yolandi are funny, smart, and loving sisters who grew up in a boundary pushing Mennonite family in Manitoba.  As adults, they are two very different women.  Elf is a world-renowned pianist, wealthy and happily married.  Yolandi is twice divorced with two kids desperately trying to find true love.  But together the sisters share a struggle that is hurting their family.  Elf wants to end her life and she wants Yoli to help her do it. 

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews, is a heartbreaking, tender and yet humourous novel about love, family, grief, and responsibility.  With a flood of emotions, it touches a difficult topic in an honest and incredible way.

The subject matter of the book along with Toews’ gentle way of approaching it makes this a difficult book to read in one go.  The emotions are so understated, I didn’t feel them creeping up on me.  I had to keep putting the book down and reading something else so I could digest it all.  And it makes sense that it would be this way given the fact that Toews has drawn on her own life for this book.  Just like Yoli, Toews’ own sister committed suicide as well as her father, and also like Yoli, she brought her mother to live with her and her kids in Toronto so they could rebuild after the tragedies.  As you read the book, you read knowing that this is her heart on the page.  And it has you questioning just what you would do if you were in that situation.

As I have mentioned there are so many emotions that the reader feels with this book.  The sorrow and sadness of Elf’s situation, the pain inside of her that she can’t shake.  The heartbreak that Yoli feels as she tries to decide if she will do what her beloved older sister is asking of her.  I felt anger at the attitude of the psychiatrist “caring” for Elf when she is in intensive care after a suicide attempt.  It is appalling, mostly because you understand that this is still the way mental illness is looked at and treated.  And I felt so much love toward the characters.  I absolutely loved the rebellion throughout the family, against their community and societal attitudes.  They are broken people navigating the world the best way they know how, far from perfect and very endearing.

I was drawn in by the incredible writing style of this book, how it is tender but packs a big punch.  This is a difficult subject to write about in general and to be able to write it with tenderness as well as humour is a big undertaking and Toews does it perfectly.  This is a book that will make you both laugh and cry over such a heart-breaking issue.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sunday Headlines

Here are some literary articles that caught my eye this week

*Readers, writers, bloggers have all been talking about this lately - diversity in books and why publishers aren't doing enough.  Buzzfeed shares why diversity is not enough.

*The Toronto Public Library chose Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo as their One Book for 2014.  To celebrate, 22 cellists will be playing in 22 spots in Toronto over 22 days.

*A decline in male readers is worrying authors says The Guardian.

*As everyone knows, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has passed away.

*If you're Canadian, you know Winnie The Pooh's back story from the CBC Heritage Minute.  Now, Ryerson University is exploring his history in an exhibit.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde" by Jennie Garth

If you were a teenager in the 90’s, you probably caught an episode of Beverly Hils 90210 (or all ten seasons.)  And you probably recognize one of the show’s famous blondes, Jennie Garth.  From the moment Kelly Taylor came on the screen, Jennie was thrust into the spotlight and with the rest of the cast became an instant celebrity.   Since then she has had a career in Hollywood that has spanned over two decades which she is sharing about in her new memoir Deep Thoughts From A Hollywood Blonde

Why did she decide to write a book now?  Jennie found herself at a new point in her life.  At the age of 40 she was newly divorced and raising her three daughters as a single mother.  After years of focusing on her family rather than her acting career, she found herself, and her life, in all of the tabloids.  So she decided to tell the story herself, juicy bits and all.

I picked this book up because I was such a big fan of 90210 growing up.  I’m pretty sure I was a little too young to be watching it (I had a sister seven years older than me who was watching it and those were the days of one television set in the house) but nonetheless I watched every episode of every season.  I still watch reruns of my favourite episodes every once in a while.  So of course I wanted to know all of the behind the scenes stories, especially the details of what Shannen Doherty was really like.  

Unfortunately, 90210 fans are going to be disappointed when they find that Jennie either has a terrible memory or she just doesn’t care.  She gets many details of the show wrong (sorry Jennie, but you guys didn’t graduate from high school in season 7 and Luke Perry didn’t join the show in the summer series.)  She also mentions how she didn’t want her pregnancy to be shown in the show because she didn’t want people to think she was supporting teenage sex, but that wouldn’t have been an issue since her character was 22 years old when Jennie became pregnant.  Pointing out things like this may seem like I’m being a little too much of a nerdy fan, but if I can remember these things from when I was a teenager, I would think she would be able to remember them as the actress who played the part.

Okay, that part aside, the 90210 bits were fun to read.  I found myself often putting down the book to go look up pictures on the internet or go find certain episodes.  As she looked back at the mania that surrounded the cast of the show, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate she was that social media and the paparazzi weren’t as prevalent as they are now.  

It’s nice to read a memoir of a celebrity who had a normal life and didn’t struggle with anything that would send you to rehab.  That being said, at the end of the day, this didn’t have anything earth-shattering.  Once she started talking about her divorce the book felt more like a self-help book for women in the same position.  There’s a lot of introspection which I’m sure would help a lot of people, but for someone who hasn’t been there, I couldn't understand it.  If there is something in her story that you can relate to then you may enjoy this book.  But if, like me, you just want to go back to the good old 90210 days, I suggest borrowing the book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Landing Gear" by Kate Pullinger

Spring 2010.  Ash from a volcano in Iceland has closed the airspace over Europe.  With most of her colleagues in local radio stranded abroad, Harriet jumps at the opportunity to further her career.  But a chance encounter with a man from her past ruins everything.  Meanwhile, Harriet’s husband Michael is stuck in Toronto and staying with an old flame, while their teenage son Jack who is off from school and on his own finds himself in a lot of trouble.  Emily is a young television researcher who has just lost her father to a heart attack.  And Yacub is a migrant worker from Pakistan, stranded in a labour camp in Dubai after the project he is working on goes bust.

Fast forward two years and all of these lives come crashing together when Yacub falls out of the landing gear of an airplane and lands on Harriet’s car in a supermarket parking lot.

Landing Gear, by Kate Pullinger, is an intriguing page-turner that brings many aspects of modern society - the internet, airplanes, immigration, the nuclear family - together.  Based on a newspaper article written a decade ago about a stowaway who fell from a plane and landed in a supermarket parking lot, the book explores what would happen if a stowaway survives and in doing so weaves together the complexities of modern life.

Right from the first page of this book I was hooked.  A stowaway falling from a plane, that’s the type of story I’d want to read in the newspaper.  And the volcanic eruption of 2010 had me wondering what our skies would be like if all of the planes were grounded.  But mostly, I was intrigued by the writing style.  Short chapters, different points of view, and parts where the thoughts of three different characters are unfolding all on the same page, this is a well-written and unique novel.  I love the way the stories, the characters, and their secrets all unfolded throughout the book, just the right amount of information to keep you going.

I enjoyed reading the stories of all these characters and really liked how they were all weaved together, to form a unique family in a sense.  I’ll admit that I found the reactions of Yacub and Harriet odd when Yacub fell from the sky, but other than that, everything comes together nicely.  The themes of falling, landing, and taking risks run throughout the book in a creative way.  I just love the way everyones lives intersect and how their stories move along.  There was no one character I wanted to read more or less than the others.

I had a hard time putting this book down to go to bed.  As soon as I woke up, I had to finish it.  It flows which makes it easy to read.  I recommend this as one of springs top reads and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear on many end of the year or awards lists.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Headlines - Top Ten Edition

Here are some of the headlines that caught my eye this week, all lists of ten.

*Ten authors to follow on Twitter from The Savvy Reader.

*CBC Books shares ten amazing author statues.

*Are you a dictionary fanatic? Here are ten great reads the National Post thinks you might like.

*The Celebrity Cafe thinks these ten YA books should be adapted into movies.

*The Guardian lists the top ten books about missing persons.

*Here are the ten mistakes non comic book fans make about comic books, courtesy of What Culture (my husband will probably tell you I have made all ten.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Ever After of Ashwin Rao" by Padma Viswanathan

In 1985, an Air India flight leaving Vancouver, Canada blew up off the coast of Ireland.  The majority of people on board were Canadians of Indian ancestry.  It wasn’t until 2004 that two suspects were finally put on trial for what is the largest mass murder in Canadian history.

Ashwin Rao is an Indian psychologist who was trained in Canada but returned to India after the bombing took the lives of his sister and niece and nephew.  But the trial brings him back to Canada, to do a study on comparative grief by interviewing people who lost a loved one in the attack.  This brings him into contact with the Sethuratnam family, and their friend Venkat who lost his wife and son.  As Ashwin becomes wrapped up in their lives, he finds himself trying to deal with the emotional fallout of his own loss.

The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan looks at the emotions, grief, and recovery of one of the darkest days in Canadian history through the lens of fiction.  In addition to following the political and cultural turmoil in India that were the reasons for the attack, the book takes aim at the failure of the Canadian government to respond to and show outrage.

The book travels through the decades and through the world to give a complete picture of the events that led up to the incident.  I was surprised to find that Venkat and the Sethuratnams are given so much space in the book, however, their stories set against Ashwin’s show that grief and terror affect everyone differently.  

This is a sweeping novel that covers so much culture and history and that is one of the strengths of the novel to me.  I was too young to understand what happened at the time, but I know of the bombing because of the trial coverage.  This book has filled in every gap for me and given me a much better understanding.  It has certainly led to some outrage of my own to the way the Canadian government has handled the issue.

That being said, there was something missing to make this novel a favourite and I can’t put my finger on it.  I know it lies in the writing style, there were parts that for me just dragged the story along.  It wasn’t too much that it put me off wanting to finish the book, but it definitely took me longer to read than a book usually does.  I also wonder how the book will appeal to people outside of Canada or India who don't already feel a connection to it, as I found the politics of the novel more interesting than the journey of the characters.

For me, this book is summed up in this quote - “Mostly, in those days, I was musing on how limited the catalogue is of horrors people have perpetrated on one another through history” (p. 229).  Because of this, it is an important novel.  From 1985 on, the Air India bombing has been viewed as another country’s problem.  But no matter where their roots lie, the people on the plane and the people who perpetrated this crime were Canadian.  It’s not their problem, it’s our problem.  And as long as people continue to act in this manner toward others, the grief and emotions of it all will transcend borders.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Headlines

Here are a few literary headlines that caught my eye this week:

*Some bookstores are closing while others are thriving - is it the end of the independent bookstore?

*Elle magazine asked 12 great female authors to recommend their favourite female authors.

*Here are 10 famous literary characters based on real life people

*Yann Martel reflects on life and the book that brought him fame.

*It is common for book covers to change between hardcover and paperback, but titles?