Flyaway

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

publication date July 28 2020

Thank you Netgalley for the free ARC of Flyaway.

This is such a beautifully written book. The opening chapter vividly and poetically introduces us to the setting creating the atmosphere of a fairytale. For example “ Trees bled resin like rubies, sprouted goitrous nests, suspended cats-cradles of spiderwebs spinning disks of silk”…see, a fairytale.

Like all good fairy tales, Flyaway has a princess Bettina or “Tink” as she is referred to by those who know her best. For years Bettina has lived alone with her mother with her father and her two cruel brothers having disappeared years ago. Tink isn’t exactly sure how and when her father disappeared for that time in her history is rather fuzzy. And her mother doesn’t help her remember, in fact, her there is something odd about Bettina’s mother..she’s hiding something, some truth. 

Life has been going on rather uneventful for Betinna except for the fact she hs to paint over the word “Monsters” graffitied on the fence in their yard, or because most of the townsfolk treat her with disdain and mistrust. 

One day Betinna receives an envelope in the mail. Inside the envelope are old newspaper clippings with “Youths Run amok”, “Damage and Disturbance”, “Destruction of  Peace” which is unsettling enough but what makes the contents of this letter even more threatening is the ominously scrawled handwriting on it saying “You coward Tink”. 

Bettina knows it was one of her long lost brothers who has sent this letter so, with the help of two childhood friends, she goes in search of her brothers in order to finally find out the truth behind her father’s disappearance. 

Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters that are literally written in fairy tale form. These chapters are tale from her family’s past as well as the folklore of the community. 

This is a fairly short novel that packs a tonne of story, not in terms of plot, but rather in terms of theme and character. It deserves to be read slowly, especially the chapters written in fairy tale form. So that you can truly appreciate the style and languages used by the author. In fact, I am tempted to by this novel in hard copy so that I can share some of the beautifully poetic language with my students.  To me, toe story is written a bit like a puzzle with each chapter seeming like an individual piece on its own, but once put together displays an intriguing and elaborate picture.

 

I Am Afraid of Men

I’m Afraid of Men
Vivek Shraya
“The experience of repeatedly being stared at slowly mutated me into an alien” (pg 2)
I cannot express how profoundly important it is to read this book. It is a short, honest, heartwrenching read. The strength of spirit Vivek has built because of the lifetime of intimidation is noteworthy not only because she has survived, but also because she has immersed as a remarkable writer.
This book should be read in every high school. The issues presented in Vivek’s narrative need to be acknowledged and discussed in every classroom. Penguin Random House Canada does provide free teachers guide on its site.

142 Ostriches by April Davila

I read this novel over the weekend, actually over the course of a Saturday between loads of laundry. While I was changing my whites from the washer and into the dryer I would wonder “why aren’t Tallulah‘s ostriches laying eggs? Are they sick? Heartbroken?” I became quite invested in Tallulah‘s ostriches and worried about their safety. 

Obviously the novel isn’t just about ostriches. It’s a novel about self discovery. It’s about believing one thing about yourself and then realizing you are wrong, that your identity sometimes isn’t found out in the great unknown but rather it can be found in the love and expectations of those around you. 

This little novel, was quick and captivating without intricacies of plot or grandiose themes. The writing style was engaging enough to hold me throughout several loads of laundry and then some!

Thank you Kensington Books and Netgalley for the advanced copy. Novel will be available February 25.

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

It is the dead of winter where I live, -35C with snow and a killer wind chill. There is nothing else to do but go straight home after work, crawl under a quilt and read. Thankfully Simon and Schuster Canada through Netgalley sent me an advanced reading copy of Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel. I was the perfect read for a frigid winter evening. The story captured my interest immediately, maybe because the story is familiar. Based VERY loosely on the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the abuse she endured throughout her childhood by her mother Dee Dee….which ended in murder.
Instead, this account puts our victim in the “driver’s” seat, so to speak, where Rose gold testifies against her mother, thereby retaliating against her abuser by putting her in jail. She then spends the next five years plotting how to get her revenge against her mother.
The story is written from various points of view from multiple timelines. One timeline takes place during the five years Rose Gold’s mother “Patty” is serving time in jail. Here we learn how Rose makes her way in the world independent of her mother manipulation with only the help of the neighbour. Rose learns to drive gets a job and buys a house (which happens to be her mother’s childhood home), and continues her online relationship with her boyfriend, Phil. It is during this time of her mother’s incarceration that Rose Gold’s father makes an appearance apologizing for not being “there” for her. Rose is happy to have a father in her life because Patty made her believe her father left them and died of a drug overdose. Rose Gold is overjoyed to have her father in her life…but how much will he expect from him? How does she feel about the new family he had made for himself.
The second timeline is when the mother Patty is released from jail and attempts to return to the life she had left. The same town in the same neighbourhood, the daughter whose testimony landed her in prison in the first place.
Oh my goodness, I did not know who to trust in this novel. Obviously not Patty who is an egotistical manipulator who feels the world owes her for all the “good” she claims to have done in the world including being the perfect mother. Has Patty learned her lesson after five years in prison? Will she own up to the physical, mental and emotional harm she caused her daughter and make amends?
Can we, as readers, trust Rose Gold? While I was reading, I couldn’t help but feel there was something “off” with this girl. I kept telling myself it was because of the abuse she suffered under the hands of her mother that made her so clingy and bitter. Horrifyingly enough, there are glimmers, flashes actually of her mother in her…like when she lies to manipulate a person or situation to get what she thinks she deserves. And Rose seems to do so without remorse-just like her mother. Is it her fractured upbringing that makes manipulation the only way she knows how to survive independent of her mother? Or maybe it is because “there is always a special bond between mothers and daughter- but sometimes it goes horribly wrong”.
I loved this book. I finished it in an evening. I found both Patty and Rose such tragic characters I couldn’t wait to reach the end of the novel to see how and if they survived the lives they created for themselves.

The Education of an Idealist

When I was thirteen, I wanted to be a Secret Service Agent. I clipped all the articles from the newspaper that covered the attempted assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. I would imagine myself dressed in a black suit carrying a gun. Years later, I wanted to be a journalist. Instead of protecting politicians, I would write about them. I would travel to get the story and then I would write the truth. When I picked up Samantha Power’s memoir The Education of an Idealist and read the jacket cover, I thought immediately that “this was the life I wanted to live all those years ago.”.
Power tells the story of her life born in Ireland and moving with her mother and brother to America when she was a young child. She learns an American accent and plays baseball and assimilates quite naturally into the Culture.
Powers grows up, goes to college and eventually becomes a war correspondent assigned to cover the war in Bosnia cultivating a strong sense of justice regarding war victims.
Back in America, Samantha works with Obama’s presidential campaign and eventually works her way to becoming The United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
Power is the master of detail. The author must have been journaling or writing consistently throughout her experiences — a habit of a journalist. Reading the memoir of a writer is always a pleasant experience because gifted writers have a strong writer’s voice it feels as though they, or in this case, Samatha Power herself was sitting across the table telling her stories to me over a cup of tea…or a glass of whiskey.
What an inspiring book for young women to read. To read the life of bravery, creativity, political astuteness and empathy and all the adventures that come with it.

“…the relief of a father who has been reunited with his son, newly free of a deadly disease. The look on a government ministers’ face as he traverses a rainbow crosswalk. the insistence of diplomats to go on serving their country,  even when being ignored and insulted because they know that our nation is bigger than any one leader. And the persistent attempts- after unforgivable acts- to find the humanity in one’s foe” (pg 552).

A Nearly Normal Family

A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson

The Sandells are a perfectly normal family leading a perfectly normal life. They play Monopoly, go on hikes, listen to podcasts. Their reality is normal, yet sometimes mundane everyday reality. Until one day they get a phone call from a lawyer saying their daughter Stella has been arrested on suspicion of murder. It seems Stella’s much older lover has been brutally stabbed to death.
The novel is broken into 3 separate points of view. Father, Daughter, Mother each first-person narrative giving their own interpretation and involvement with the crime. Edvardsson is very successful in creating distinct and convincing voices for each. And I admired the artful way the author made sure to weave the essential plot points from the various point of view without breaking continuity.

A Nearly Perfect Family topped off my holiday reading perfectly. Easy and quick to read if you want to escape a cold winter day wrapped up in a cosy quilt.

The Blacksmith Queen by G. A. Aiken

The Blacksmith Queen by G.A Aiken

What an enjoyable romp through the fantastical world of the Blacksmith queen. The book grabbed me and held me hostage from the opening pages where a king has died, and his offspring are murdering each other for his crown.

The story quickly moves to the forest where the Smythe family is feeling the repercussions of the king’s death. The Smythe family is gloriously filled with strong, courageous, brutal women to revel in combat (most often with each other). Soon we learn that Beatrix, one of the sisters, has been prophesized by witches to be the next queen. This prophecy puts her and the entire family at risk from the remaining competing royals.

I have a penchant for strong female characters. Rarely have I come across a character like our main character, Keeley. With a body honed by “womaning” a forge Keeley not only has the physical strength to fight any man or beast, she also has unwavering courage that holds fast no matter the circumstance.

With a fast-paced plot, a nice bit of gore, hilariously funny characters and just a smidge of sex, this novel was the perfect read at the end of my summer. I laughed aloud innumerable times (a couple of times in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, which garnered me many a stare). And yay! There are several more Aikian novels out there for me to read!

The Blacksmith Queen comes out August 27, 2019

Island by Johanna Skibsrud

I wish I would have had a copy of Johanna Skibsrud’s Island 30 years ago when I was studying Heart of Darkness in British Literature class at university. If I did, I would have had the patience to read all the way through Joseph Conrad’s story of moral corruption. (20 years later I gave it another go, and you’d be pleased to note I read it in its entirety and appreciated its brilliance.).
Skibsrud’s reimagining of Heart of Darkness is a timely novel in the age of “us” and “them”, a mentality that seems exacerbated by the current political situation. This novel forces us to contemplate our role in the various structure that form our identity, be it political, historical or political. It reminds us that governments can be built on precarious scaffolds that strive more towards power than people.
The story is told from the point of view of two characters that exist on opposite ends of the pollical spectrum, Lota, a young revolutionary, and Racheal a “first secretary” of the foreign service working at the “Empires” embassy. Both women struggle in their respective realities using memories of their past in an effort to make sense of their present.
Island is a novel I would seriously consider using in my classroom. Not only does it fit perfectly with the curricular themes of “identity”, “nationalism”, and “globalization” it also is worthy of literary study.
I recieved a copy of this novel from Netgalley

Island comes out September 24 2019

Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

I’m always in search of novels with strong, independent female protagonists to put on the shelf of my little classroom library. “The Lady Rogue” written by Jenn Bennett presents us with Theodora or “Theo”, a seventeen year old young lady with a penchant for crossword puzzles, cipher codes, and the occult. When Theo’s “adventurer” father goes missing while attempting to possess the lost ring of Vlad the Impaler (yes Dracula himself) Theo embarks upon an adventure of her own in an effort to piece together her father’s last movements and ultimately save him from murderous treasure hunters.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Bennett has written novel that is a combination of just the right amounts of adventure, gothic elements, history and romance to engage any young adult. I especially enjoyed the voice of Theo. Although the story is set in 1938, Theo speaks and thinks like a REAL seventeen year old girl. She has a wonderfully sarcastic inner dialogue that had me chuckling regularly. I hope Jenn Bennett writes share more of Theodora’s adventures with us in the future!

”Lady Rogue” comes out September 3.

 

“The Water Cure” by Sophie Mackintosh

A sisterhood born out of blood held together for survival; survival against parents, strangers and family. I sympathize for the sisters, they were, after all, products of their environment, an environment of isolation and abuse. Mother and King believe that pain keeps you safe. Emotional pain protects you from a broken heart, mental pain protects you from determining the truth behind the hill in which you live, and physical abuse? Well, physical pain cleanses you from impurities and corruption.
When the outside world suddenly infringes upon your “haven” making you question the only life you’ve ever known, do you fight against it? Or do you let it consume you?
I loved this book. I would think about Lia and Grace even after I closed the pages for the day. I need to talk about this book so I’ve recruited friends to read it so that we can debrief.

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Novel: “Women Talking” by Miriam Toews

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This is an important book. This is a disturbing book. This is a book where the voices of women can no longer be silenced by tradition and fear. Horrifyingly based on a true story, Miriam Toews tells a story of a group of Mennonite women, members of a traditional colony in Bolivia who are forced to meet in the hayloft of a barn and determine whether or not they will break from the colony, the only home they’ve ever known. Their reason? Women and children in their community have been woken up battered, bruised and sexually violated. I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you that the abuse is at the hands of men in their own community, men they know and trust. It is a story that appears to be set in some uncivilised medieval time so what makes it even more horrifying is the fact the truth behind this story happened a mere decade ago. The idea of feeling unsafe with the threat of torture in your own home among your own people is a nightmare that exists for many.

Although this novel is heavy and at times emotionally taxing, it is not gratuitous; there is no need to be. The reality posed speaks for itself with no need for vivid imagery. Toews characterizes her women characters as being strong, heroic and humourous. These women are facing their truth, now what are they going to do about it?

Read this book. Read this book with your girlfriends, your mother, and your daughters. Talk about what you read and how you feel when you read it. What would you do? Flee or Fight? Would your screams of anguish turn into battle cries? The answer lies in the book’s title.

CBC interview with Miriam Toews

Book Club Lists!!!

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My book club list of titles for 2017-2018

I thought I’d post the list of books my book club read this year. Our book club has been in existence for over 15 years. Even though over time some members have sadly moved away We’ve always been able to collect a few wonderful additions to our group. Because most of us work in some way or form with Education, we meet at the end of the summer to choose our books for the year. We all meet at someone’s house (where there is ALWAYS wine…sometimes whiskey, and snacks) with title suggestions. Sometimes a member shares a novel she’s already read and KNOWS it will lend itself to discussion, but most often the titles proffered are of literature that none of us has read. We usually end up with near 20 title suggestions.
How do we choose? We usually have 8-9 book club meetings a year. This means that each of us gets 8 votes! Protocol is that each member can vote a number of ways: one vote for each choice OR if you really, really, REALLY want to read a book you know the other members might not be too keen on reading you can put all 8 votes on that one book (as per my Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell takedown of 2010). The top eight novels are picked! Then we decide the order with which to read them.

I can’t wait to meet at the end of the summer to determine what books we will be reading for the following year.

I love book club. It simply makes me happy.

I thought I’d share last year’s list with all of you. I will be sure to post this year’s list as soon as I can!
Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck – September
In the Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware – October
The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch – November
Inferior by Angela Saini – January
Borne by Jeff Vandermeer – April
The Break by Katherena Vermette… – December
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Secret Path by Gord Downie and Birdie by Tracey Lindberg – March
Scythe by Neal Shusterman – May
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – June
Bonus: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Go Ask the Kids

I never used to read Science Fiction. To recommend books to my students who are Sci-Fi readers, I decided to expand my repertoire of genres. Not knowing where to start, I went to the source, and I asked my students for suggestions. The first title proffered? Unwind by Neal Schusterman. Much to my surprise, I loved this sci/fi dystopic story. It was a novel that opened numerous themes, the types of topics that engage young adults: parent abandonment, friendship, medical ethics. And “Unwind is wonderfully a part of a series: “Unwind” “Unsouled” “Unwholly”, “Undivided”. Us book nerds LOVE an excellent long series right?

As much as I loved the Unwind series, it is Schusterman’s newest series that has captured and tightly bound my interest to the point where I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL 2019, for the third book to be released. I recommended Scythe to my book club, filled with mothers, teachers, and retired librarians. Undoubtedly a collection of ladies with distinct literary taste. They all loved it and promptly got their hands on book two ThunderHead.

What is the Scythe arc about? Imagine no politicians, every decision is left to the Thunderhead, an entity similar to “the Cloud”. Imagine a world where technology has advanced to the point where no one dies, and if they do, they can easily be “reassembled”. Imagine this world becoming overrun by humans to the point where we, as a species, must be culled. Now imagine if your calling was to cull humans. A respected, feared and almost sacred calling….to be a Scythe. Like Unwind, this series has the potential to incite in-depth, introspective classroom discussion.

It should be noted that he Unwind series is consistently signed out of our school library. The novel has also been used in our Religious Studies class for the opportunities created for discussion on ethics and morality. Scythe is becoming popular at our school as well mainly because we have a solid group of die-hard Schusterman fans.

I had the opportunity to hear Neal Schusterman speak at the National Council of Teachers of English conference a couple of years ago. He remembers what it was like to be a student, a student with imagination in need of an opportunity to create. He KNOWS what it takes to turn reluctant readers into avid readers.

Go to the readers in your class for title suggestions! You know who they are!

Link to Neal Schusterman’s site where you can learn all about his amazing series can be found here.