Holiday Books (2)

December 5, 2020

And now for Holiday books, part two … These are the novels that have caught my eye in the last little while and have made it on to “the list”. Another diverse selection of themes, generally great reviews, a few award-winners, all but one, by chance, by writers I’ve not yet read. In my opinion, a good selection from which to gift the readers in your life. Hope you find something that appeals! And, of course, do share any titles that are making it on to your lists.

Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell – I was so confused. Maggie O’Farrell’s name is also on the cover of a book called Hamnet. After some thorough, but not very rewarding research, it appears these two books are indeed one and the same. As sometimes happens, the Canadian edition goes by a different title. So … whether you read Hamnet or Hamnet & Judith, you will be reading an award winner. A Waterstone’s pick for book of the year too. The historical tale puts us into the 16th Century and witness to the life and death of a child, Hamnet, the little known son of Shakespeare. “A luminous portrait of a marriage, a shattering evocation of a family ravaged by grief and loss, and a hypnotic recreation of the story that inspired one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time, Hamnet & Judith is mesmerizing and seductive, an impossible-to-put-down novel from one of our most gifted writers.” While I’m honestly not altogether uplifted by the sound of the tale itself, by absolutely all accounts, the prose in this novel is utterly sensational and must be experienced.

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson – I confess to having already added this to my bedside table. It was too pretty to pass up! So many of us love this genre of historical fiction, where present and past generations connect through hidden clues from a war torn era. I’m a sucker for a British “rugged coastline” setting and do adore an old house restoration that reveals clues to the past too. “Intriguing” “Quite Magical” “Mesmerizing” “Poignant” “Sweeping Saga” and “Irresistible Epic” – well, those sound like the ingredients for a perfect story to me and definitely gift-worthy.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie – Also historical, but takes us to post World War II Japan where a young bi-racial and illegitimate girl struggles to overcome the injustices toward her. Her imperially ranked grandparents, with whom she’s been abandoned, cannot overcome their shame and prejudices and mistreat her badly. Hope only reaches Noriko when her half brother, and heir to the family fortune, arrives and advocates for her. “Spanning decades and continents, Fifty Words for Rain is a dazzling epic.” A debut author and an award winner too. Looks so good and I love the idea of travelling to Japan through the pages. An important experience to consider during these confining times!

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney – The novel takes place over the course of one evening as a young chaplain does her rounds, accompanied by a “rough and ready” dog, who may or may not be a ghost. “The perfect novel to combat pandemic angst.“… it’s filled with characters who are rich with stories and eager to tell them.” This one intrigues and is very generously reviewed. It’s apparently a philosophical, gentle, and hopeful story of companionship.

Pale Morning Light: A Novel of a Life in Art by Violet Swan – An aging artist has captured fame with her peaceful abstract paintings. She lives a quiet and private life in Oregon until the generations she’ll leave behind begin to inadvertently unravel secrets she’d intended to take to her grave. “Gorgeous, luminescent, and imbued with hope, meet Violet Swan, ninety-three years old, and with a heck of a story to tell. Be prepared to be spellbound.” – Rene Denfeld. I’m always fascinated by the lives of artists and this one has me curious while generational sagas always make great gifts.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – This novel appears on almost every Favourites and Must Read list there is. V.E. Schwab is a prolific and highly praised writer but in Fantasy, an area in which I rarely, if ever, dabble. While this story has an element of time-travelling magic in it, it seems to have captured the hearts of readers of every genre. “… Schwab sends you whirling through a dizzying kaleidoscopic adventure through centuries filled with love, loss, art and war — all the while dazzling your senses with hundreds of tiny magical moments along the way.” (Naomi Novik) That word “epic” gets bandied about again when talking about this one. Sounds like a riveting read and a great escape.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce – The description of Miss Benson’s Beetle reads like a buddy caper movie ready for the filming. Lead character Miss. Benson is reaching a breaking point with her dire personal circumstances and so, impulsively and bravely, decides to set off on an expedition in search of a particular beetle she’s been obsessed with since childhood. She advertises for an assistant to join her on the foray. “Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.” It’s one of the books already in my “read next” pile. Can’t wait! (PS – Rachel Joyce is the author of the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu “A stunning novel about identity, race, societal expectations, and crippling anxiety told with humor and affection and a deep understanding of human nature.” (The Washington Independent Review of Books) While the issues seem complicated and emotional, exploring Asian stereotypes and feelings of inferiority, almost every review makes mention of the good humour in this read. Creatively written, in the format of a screenplay and in second person, it may be a departure from the style of our usual reads but sounds like it’s definitely worth the journey. Fabulous reviews, a television adaptation in the works, a very likeable author, and a recent National Book Award all seem pretty convincing that this should be on our lists.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane – This story also appears on a number of “good humour” lists. If you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (and I think we all did!) this may be right up your alley. A sharp-witted, introverted heroine embraces an unexpected opportunity to revive a few long-neglected old friendships and sets off to do so, intentionally in person rather than through social media means. “Wry, witty, ultimately uplifting, this gem of a novel celebrates the gifts in our ordinary lives.” (Claire Messud) Another celebration of the little joys in life and the importance of good friendship, fitting for our times. And it’s a gem!

Happy reading and happy gifting! Let us know if you’ve already been through the pages of any of these. They’re all new to me but look enticing and gift-worthy.

If You Liked …

January 8, 2011

The new year brings with it releases of some new titles by writers of some of our old favourites. These all look terrific to me and will no doubt be big book club hits. If you haven’t yet read the old ones, you have time to get caught up. So …

if you liked … you’ll be delighted by the new ….

    

Still Alice by Lisa Genova must be one of my most frequently recommended books in recent years; its poignancy has remained with me long after the last pages were read. While Still Alice followed Alzheimer’s from the perspective of the patient, Left Neglected, (released on January 4th, 2011) features the sufferer of a traumatic brain injury. (left neglect or hemi-spatial neglect refers to a lack of awareness of the left side of one’s body as a result of an injury to the right side of the brain) Not light stuff but as a Harvard Neuroscientist the author is more than prepared to shine some fascinating light on the world of the brain. She wrote that her first book wasn’t just about the illness but also “… about identity, about living a life that matters, about family and what a crisis does to relationships.”  In telling a story of the recovery of a Type A over-achieving working mother after a life-altering accident, Left Neglected promises to do the same.

    

I read The Memory Keeper’s Daughter while snuggled up in a ski cabin in a snowstorm which was suitable considering the opening scenes of the story take place in a wild snowstorm. Now I’m off to find a cabin by a lake as it appears a lake plays a pivotal role in Kim Edwards’ latest tale. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter explored controversial and ethical decisions and their impact on a family in an absolutely enthralling way. A father decides to conceal the birth of his child with Down’s Syndrome and is thereafter haunted by his actions and the related actions of others.The Lake of Dreams (released on January 4th, 2011) also examines family and secrets and is apparently just as successful in creating memorable characters and evocative imagery. A young woman returns home, obsessed by her father’s earlier death and finds herself engaged in conflict and intrigue with her remaining family. Apparently there are secret letters and artefacts revealing a mysterious family past. Do tell.

      

I haven’t encountered a reader yet who wasn’t captivated by Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. In Loving Frank we followed a fictional account of the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. A fascinating story made all the more interesting by the times in which it took place. In the new The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (to be released February 22,2011) we are drawn into the relationship between real life characters Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson. The story is written from the fictional perspective of  Hadley during their time together, based mostly in Paris, during the 1920’s.  According to Goodreads: “The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Insert deep sigh here.

         

Another novel will also draw us back in history in an exciting way. Clara and Mr. Tiffany (to be released on January 11, 2011) is written by Susan Vreeland, known for Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon of the Boating Party, both successful fictional stories based in the real world of art of yore. “Clara” in the new title refers to one Clara Driscoll, an artist and designer for the famous Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century who until recently was unrecognized publicly for among other things, her creation of the Tiffany lamp and its iconic designs. Knowledge of her influence surfaced only with the discovery of three collections of revealing letters in 2005. Susan Vreeland was inspired and recounts her first introduction to Clara: “Here was the lively, sometimes rhapsodic voice of a woman who bicycled all around Manhattan and beyond, wore a riding skirt daringly shorter than street length, adored opera, followed the politics of the city, and threw herself into the crush of Manhattan life–the poverty of crowded immigrants in the Lower East Side as well as the Gilded Age uptown.” With a character like that to follow this is bound to be fun! Vreeland has proven herself with her previous books to be a solid researcher and a gifted fiction writer so be prepared to learn a great deal and enjoy the process immensely.

Don’t mind me while I mull over my preference for reading paperbacks – these are all hardcovers and I’m not sure I can wait!

    

Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil collector and expert in paleontology from Lyme Regis in Dorset, England.  Among her most notable discoveries were an icthyasaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur (“saury” – won’t describe the ancient creatures here but you get the drift!) All important finds and instrumental in proving the theory of extinction: ancient species had existed at one time, in an age of “dinosaurs”.  Mary is a fascinating character in history, respected now for her extraordinary contribution to modern day understanding of prehistorical life and geographical history but challenged with a lack of recognition in her day due to her gender and low social status.  As an aside, she was also the inspiration behind the verse: “She sells sea shells by the seashore”.

Two accomplished writers were motivated to explore and capture Mary’s story in fiction for the rest of us to enjoy and, coincidentally, at just about the same time. The books were published within a few months of one another early in 2010. Curiosity by Canadian writer Joan Thomas is enjoying many accolades and celebration; it was  long listed for the Giller prize and named The Vancouver Sun’s inaugural selection in its new on-line book club.  Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier has also been reviewed positively and I’m sure will be picked up by those who’ve enjoyed her other terrific books: The Virgin Blue, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Burning Bright and others.  I’m an enormous fan of her writing.

Each of the authors took a distinct approach to imagining Mary’s story. I think this makes a great opportunity to read both and compare the versions of her so-called life – perhaps a good Book Club task for one of those longer spells between meetings. If one had to choose to read just one based on the cover alone, which would you select?  Let us know what you thought if you’ve already read one or the other. Click on the book covers to be taken to the authors’ websites and note the similarity there. You’ll find great information on each site.

%d bloggers like this: