Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"And the Birds Rained Down" by Jocelyne Saucier

Tom and Charlie are two men who have decided to live out the last years of their lives on their own in a remote forest in Northern Ontario.  Their only contact with the outside world are the men who grow marijuana on their land and bring them supplies.  But all of this changes with the arrival of two women.

A young photographer comes first.  She is looking for one of the last known survivors of the catastrophic fires that swept the area almost a century earlier.  This man, Ted, used to live with Tom and Charlie but is recently deceased.  The second arrival is the elderly aunt of one of the men who brings them their deliveries.  The woman who wants to be known as Marie-Desneige, has been living in a psychiatric institution since the age of sixteen. 

After the four of them come across what Ted has left behind, a magnificent series of paintings about the fires, they put together the history of the man and the region.  And as they do so, they all face their own ideas about life, aging, and self-determination.

And the Birds Rained Down, written by Jocelyne Saucier and translated to English by Rhonda Mullins, is a fascinating and haunting novel that addresses an issue we all face - aging.  A finalist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for French-to-English Translation and a selection for Canada Reads 2015, this is a novel for people of all walks of life.

Like many others, I wondered just how much I would take away from this book as I am a few decades away from facing this part of life.  I figured it would be a good story, but how much would I take away from it personally?  But the book exudes wisdom that will relate to people of any age and any place.

This is very much a Canadian novel - quiet, thoughtful, powerful.  There is so much wrapped in this book, with many issues covered - aging, death, mental health, and choosing how to live your life.  I thought the introduction of Marie-Desneige was great as the comparison between her life and the lives of the two men made me think about how much any of us are free to determine our lives.  How heart-breaking that we spend so much of our lives constrained by so many factors and in our last years there are different factors still dictating how we live.


I was immediately drawn into this book, not wanting to put it down.  Through the middle, it slowed down a bit for me and unfortunately it didn't finish as strong for me as it started.  I never felt fully drawn into the storyline between Charlie and Marie-Desneige and that is where it changed for me.  However, it didn’t make me want to put down the book.  Overall this was an enjoyable read and I see why it was chosen a selection for Canada Reads.

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Coming Home to You" by Liesel Schmidt

Twenty-four-year-old Zoë is looking forward to the future now that she is engaged to her fiancé Paul.  Her whole life is ahead of her and she couldn’t be happier.  Until Paul dies suddenly and her life is thrown into a tailspin.

For months Zoë removes herself from life, wondering if she’ll ever be able to move on.  And when a friend asks her to housesit for a stranger, it’s the last thing she wants to do.  But her best friend convinces her that what she needs is to get away from the memories that are haunting her and this could be her fresh start.  

When Zoë moves into Neil’s home, she finds herself thrown into the life of a stranger.  She builds a picture of the man she has never met based on his belongings and begins writing a diary sharing her thoughts and feelings with Neil.  When the opportunity arises to contact with him through email, she finds herself connecting with him on a level she didn’t think she would ever connect on again.  This gives her the confidence to begin again and venture back into the world.  

But when Neil returns home from his military tour, Zoë discovers that things may not be what she thought.  Will this become the beginning of a new life or undo all of the progress she has made?

Coming Home to You, the debut novel from Liesel Schmidt, is a warm and emotional story of a young woman dealing with tragic heartbreak and her struggle to move forward in life.

At the beginning of the novel, I was unsure of what kind of journey this story was going to take me on.  It starts out very emotional and right away you could tell that Schmidt’s writing was going to get the emotion of it spot-on.  It was very easy to fall in love with Zoë and want everything to work out for her.  I was worried that the book would keep an emotional wreck the whole way through.  But Schmidt finds a beautiful balance between the heartbreak and the hope, making this a lovely read.

There is a lot that happens in the book so at times it did feel as though parts of the book were rushed.  I really wanted to read more about the development of Zoë’s business idea.  Toward the end, her relationships could have been given a bit more time.  But there is a lot that needs to get done in the book so it is understandable.   


I enjoyed this book very much.  One Saturday morning I woke up early, picked up the book while the house was still quiet and kept reading until I was finished.   What I really appreciated about it was that it wasn’t a straightforward, everything falls into place story.  One thing we all know for sure is that life is messy and this book shows that.  Even though it starts with unimaginable heartbreak and is a story about things getting better, it isn’t the smooth fairytale you can often get. This is a beautiful story that takes you on a wave of emotion but leaves you feeling uplifted.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Month In Review

February was a very cold month in here in Canada, so I spent a lot of time inside reading.  That is always a good thing!  Though I am definitely ready for the weather to get above 0 again and for the sun to start melting.

Here are the books I read in February with my GoodReads ratings:

The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout *****
The Beauty of Grace by Dawn Camp *****
The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King *****
She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Zeenat Mahal ****
The Favourite Son by Tiffany L. Warren ****
Coming Home to You by Liesel Schmidt ****
The Bible's Answers to 100 of Life's Biggest Questions by Norman L. Geisler & Jason Jimenez ****
And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier ***
A Beauty by Connie Gault ***
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper ***
Amnesia by Peter Carey ***
When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid ***

Challenges

Canadian Book Challenge (5), Diversity on the Shelf (3)

What I'm Looking Forward to in March

I have already started my last book for Canada Reads, so I am really looking forward to the debates taking place March 16-19. I'm still working on cleaning out my Netgalley, requesting new books really isn't helping.  But that will be my big focus this month.  And my library pile.  And all the gorgeous new release....uh oh.

What was your favourite book in February?
What are you looking forward to in March?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Black History Month: Children's Books

My final list for Black History Month is of books for kids that teach them about historical events and people as well as culture.  These are all books that I have shared with my own kids (or plan to when they are older).

Henry's Freedom Box - Ellen Levine
Elijah of Buxton - Christopher Paul Curtis
The Kids Book of Black Canadian History - Rosemary Sadlier
Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged  - Jody Nyasha Warner
Up Home - Shauntay Grant
Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott
Martin's Big Words - Doreen Rapport
Through My Eyes - Ruby Bridges
The Patchwork Path - Bettye Stroud

What books do you love to read with your children and use to teach them about Black History?

Month in Review - Non-Bookish Things

Television

Black-ish continues to be my favourite show on television.  I often feel as though I'm watching my life play out on screen (the episode where the Mother-in-Law comes to visit) or viewing what life is going to be like in 8 years time (the father dealing with his daughter having a boyfriend.)  My husband was really unsure of what this show would turn out to be but we both spend the entire half hour laughing our heads off.

And the new show Fresh Off the Boat has also captured our attention.  I began watching for the incredible 90's hip-hop soundtrack and Eddie's fantastic t-shirts and ended up enjoying everything.  Any child of immigrants will find so much humour in this show (the line this week, "crank up the a/c to low" is something I'm pretty sure I heard my dad say when I was a kid.)

I'm very glad that these two shows have turned out great because my two previous favourite shows, Big Bang Theory and Modern Family have been letting me down a lot lately.

Movies

This was Oscar month and usually I spend the months leading up to it watching the nominees.  But this year, after Selma was snubbed so ridiculously, I didn't feel like it.  I had already seen half of the Best Picture nominees because those were the movies I wanted to see but I just didn't feel like bothering to watch the movies I wasn't that interested in at that point.  I did watch the awards show and am glad that The Grand Budapest Hotel won so many awards (I loved that movie.)  And the acceptance speeches by Common and John Legend, as well as Graham Moore, were so beautiful and necessary for the world we live in.  Of course, it was much more fun to follow along with the show on Twitter.  Because you got moments like this:


This month I watched two great documentaries.  The first is You Laugh But It's True which follows South African comedian Trevor Noah as he prepares for his first one-man show.  It also looks at his life as a mixed race person in Apartheid South Africa where mixed race relationships were illegal, and thus his being was illegal.  Trevor Noah is hilarious and this is a very moving film.

The second is The Drop Box which I was able to preview, it will be in theatres March 4th and 5th.  It is about a pastor in South Korea who installed a drop box in his church where people can place their babies rather than abandoning them to the streets.  Since he installed the box, he has saved the lives of over 600 babies.  I spent most of this film in tears, at the sadness that surrounds the babies and their parents and also the hope that Pastor Lee Jong-rak brings to this world.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"A Beauty" by Connie Gault

Who Should Read This: CanLit fans, readers who like books that are about character-driven.

In a small community of Swedes in the prairies of Saskatchewan lives a young Finnish woman named Elena Huhtala.  It’s the 1930’s and the drought has hit the village of Trevna, and all of the surrounding areas, hard.  Elena has always lived with her father, her mother deceased since Elena was small, but now he has disappeared, taking with him his rifle and leaving a note.  At eighteen-years-old, Elena is all alone.  

Then a stranger shows up at a country dance in his Lincoln Roadster, mysterious and catching the eyes of all the young women.  Elena needs only one dance before she jumps in his car and leaves the town behind.  As they travel through the prairie towns, unsure of where they are headed, they meet an incredible group of people, all struggling to make their own way through the difficult times.  But then Elena meets a young girl named Ruth and both of their paths are changed forever.  

A Beauty, by Connie Gault, is a beautiful novel about the lives of everyday people forever changed by the appearance of one captivating woman.  

I wanted to read this novel because it instantly jumped out at me as being in the same vein as Cool Water by Dianne Warren.  Everyday people, simple surroundings, complicated lives - I was instantly reminded of that book when I saw this one and that is why I picked it up.  And the comparison was worth it, if you enjoyed Cool Water, you will enjoy A Beauty.

The writing in the book is beautiful, rich in description, transporting you to another place and time.  As a reader, you sit and observe a host of people, investing yourself in the characters, no matter how long or short you’re in their lives.  This was the strength of the book for me, the writing of these people who aren’t the main characters but give life to the setting and the story.

In contrast, I found the story of Elena to be weaker.  I just couldn’t connect with her the way I did with the other characters.  Was it just me?  I’m curious to find out from others who have read the book.  For me, she was mostly a good mechanism to take us on this journey through small-town Saskatchewan and meet these other fascinating characters.  Her story just didn’t draw me in as well as I was drawn into theirs.


Overall, this was an enjoyable read.  I may have felt that some parts were stronger than others, but the strong parts make up for the weak parts and thus, this is a good book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others looking for CanLit, especially people who enjoy books about this part of our beautiful country.

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Black History Month: Biographies

Another list for Black History Month, this one of biographies.  I decided this time to focus on more recent biographies, rather than on historical figures.  Some of these books cover the Civil Rights Era of the 1960's but were written recently.  These books also cover the stories of Black people from all over the world.  There are some about war and some about breaking barriers.

I wish this list was longer.  Because I'm including only books I am familiar with and can confidently recommend, there are a lot of good ones that will be left off.  I wish I have read more life stories.  Compiling this list has made me realize I need to fix that.

A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah
The Other Wes Moore - Wes Moore
War Child - Emmanuel Jal
The Stone Thrower - Jael Ealey Richardson
Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
Running For My Life - Lopez Lomong
While the World Watched - Carolyn Maull McKinstry
Left to Tell - Immaculee Ilibagiza
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina - Misty Copeland
Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany - Hans J. Massaquoi
The Measure of a Man - Sidney Poitier

What books would you suggest to help me make this list longer?