"Sometimes, for a moment, everything is just as you need it to be. The memories of such moments live in the heart, waiting for the time you need to think on them, if only to remind yourself that for a short while, everything had been fine, and might be so again. I didn't have many memories like that."
Now, bits and pieces like these scattered throughout the book ragged on my conscience and had me change the rating from 2 to 3 stars. I thought it was a bit too harsh because the book did show moments of brilliance, but if the system allowed it, I truthfully would've given this a 2.5. There just weren't enough of these glimpses that shone for me.
It's 1871, and in the streets of Lower Manhattan, our main character is Moth, a twelve year old with a Gypsy fortune teller for a mother, and a father who has abandoned them both. The girl is headstrong and bright for her age, already well-engaged with the world around her. She understands the risks that she is allowed to take with older men to make life just a little bit easier on a day-to-day basis. It's a survival tactic that she learns to balance and tweak. There's a desire to run and make more of her life, but she can't leave her mother just yet, as unreliable as she is. Her plans are ultimately interrupted when she's sold to a wealthy lady, Mrs. Wentworth, in exchange for a bag of coins.
Moth is thrust into the role of Mrs. Wentworth's personal maid, with riches all around her and the chance of a better situation, but the lady proves to be abusive. She takes another risk and runs away, back to where she came, but her mother has already left. There's no sign that she'll return or any clue where she has gone. Whether it's fate or fortune, she finds a connection to a brothel, run by Miss Everett, and with the temptation of a luxurious life with riches, dresses, and more than enough to eat, she agrees to stay.
Now, in comes Dr. Sadie, who is the resident doctor for the area, checking up on the women living in poverty and working the brothels. She is the origin of the story, both as the voice between the margins, and the ultimate spark for this very book. Ami McKay's own great-great-grandmother once worked in the position and in discovering more about her, she was motivated to tell the story and write this book. I do admire the work the doctor has done, and the effort to do all this research, but to me, the pacing of the book was off and there was never many moments where I was very engaged in the story. I appreciate the abundance of female characters and Moth's strength in survival is admirable, and do feel pity for her situation and the countless women that her story represents, but as a novel, it all felt weak to me.
I do remember enjoying The Birth House, so this might be a bit of mismanaged expectations on my part. Maybe the next book will be better? Ami McKay seems like she's got plenty of stories to tell, I'm looking forward to more. (less)
That was a small lesson I learned on the journey. What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power. Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.
Michael is a young boy travelling on the Oronsay, a voyage that will take him to England to reunite with his mother. The title of the book stems from the table that he is assigned to sit at, accompanied by characters that are regarded as lowly by the rest of the ship but frankly, more interesting. Two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, form the trio and the tale consists of their adventures on the ship, and remnants of the period making its mark on these boys.
This is the first book I've read by Michael Ondaatje, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but if this is a solid representation of his style, then I'm looking forward to his other works. The vibrant cast of characters were allowed to shine in memorable vignettes, which in return served as threads that were strong enough to tie the past and present together, through friendships lost and gained. No matter how brief the intro for a character, they held importance to the overall direction of the story.
There's a wonderful tinge of nostalgia to it all, which might be what hooked me in. Michael recalls his memories with fondness but some regret as well. The "Oronsay tribe" isn't able to stay together, as it is with life, and I frankly was torn between meeting more new characters or finding out what had happened to Ramadhin and Cassius. No doubt that for me, it's easier to relate to Ramadhin's quiet nature, but Cassius was the one that intrigued me. As impulsive as his decisions can be, his gentler moments (regarding Asuntha, in particular) were the ones that tugged at the heart strings. And Ondaatje's style, which I love, are not to indulge in these moments but to have an implicit trust in the reader to take these in and have them in our memory for safekeeping in the future.
The Cat's Table is a fulfilling mix of intrigue, longing, adventure, comedy, coincidence, and possibly a dash of dark magic. It's one of the rarer books that I enjoy and wouldn't mind revisiting in the near future. My reading list is now a few books longer - the rest of Michael Ondaatje's works.(less)
Oh, the difficulty of giving praise to a novel I enjoyed rather than criticizing one I disliked! I've...moreWhat to say about this book? Who is Robert Ross?
Oh, the difficulty of giving praise to a novel I enjoyed rather than criticizing one I disliked! I've previously read Timothy Findley's The Piano Man's Daughter and honestly don't remember much about it at all. It just wasn't that memorable to me - all I know is that I didn't love or hate it. I vaguely remember the plot, but I don't feel like giving it a re-read to find out more. Disappointment.
And that's why I was so surprised to find out that this book, recommended by a friend, was by the same author. My CanLit knowledge is sadly lacking, I know.
The Wars is seemingly a novel about finding out the Who? question. Who is Robert Ross? Who is the narrator? But as you read on, it answers others as well, and raises more. The reader is taken on a journey back in time, all the way to the First World War, to discover the life of Robert Ross and just why he's where he is at the end of the story, wherever that is. It's a mere distraction from the fact that this novel documents the things great and small that make up the various characters of the war, from the soldiers to the tactics, from the friendships made, and the ones lost amidst the trenches.
Timothy Findley writes with visceral images in mind. You taste, touch, hear, smell...instead of just seeing the battles, you feel them. The main reason I found it hard to believe that it's the same author was how perfect this novel was written for a re-read. Timelines shift seamlessly, segments of Ross' life will appear then fade in the background as the war takes precedent again, and it's all muddled, ready for another discovery as we dive right back in the next time. Nothing is ever completely clear, but it makes no difference because there's always something new each time.
Such an imperative book to read. No surprise it's a classic. (less)
Since I was still half expecting a dagger to be plunged between my shoulder blades, I'm afraid I did not return her hug, which I received in stiff sil...moreSince I was still half expecting a dagger to be plunged between my shoulder blades, I'm afraid I did not return her hug, which I received in stiff silence, rather like one of the sentries at Buckingham Palace pretending he doesn't notice the liberties being taken by an excessively affectionate tourist.
To say I'm a fan of this series would be an understatement.
Flavia de Luce is one of my favourite protagonists around. An 11-year old girl with a flair for chemistry and sleuthing, she possesses the perfect combination of skill and curiosity to solve whatever quirky cases happen to pop up in dear ol' Bishop's Lacey. With her trusty bike, Gladys, Flavia makes the most of her wits, sometimes for plotting against her two sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne). Returning characters include: the stoic Colonel, gossipy Mrs. Mullet, silent Dogger, one-step-behind-Flavia-at-all-times Inspector Hewitt, and the most agreeable Sergeant Graves, amongst others.
I expected to love this book and I did; Alan Bradley did not disappoint. It says a lot that I don't even need to read the backflap but instantly recognize new books from this series at the bookstore, and see myself enjoying them all. Flavia is as charming as ever, and has still got an opinion about everything. I've tried marking down moments where she made me chuckle out loud and I had to give up because I was losing count! The unraveling of the mystery is almost secondary to me because I'm getting such a kick from the process. Flavia's methods are unconventional and every hint is a new adventure.
This book might be my favourite out of the series (so far!) because of the emotional depth it had. I was wondering if Flavia was going to mature, seeing as how she is still 11 years old with this mystery, but didn't expect much from the past to be a part of this book. The author did a lot of juggling with the various points but I still connected very much to the moments where Flavia would wonder and miss her mother. It could've bogged down the cases and the humour, but instead, added more depth to this wonderful detective.
I'm also in love with the language of these books. They're breezy to read because the descriptions never bore me (see: a Gypsy caravan: butter yellow with crimson shutters, and its lathwork sides, which sloped gently outwards beneath a rounded roof, gave it the look of a loaf of bread that has puffed out beyond the rim of the baking pan). I find myself flipping to use the helpful map at the beginning of every book, and specks of British slang make it all a delight to read.
I guess I'll just have to wait until the next one. Don't even tell me there won't be a fourth. I expect to be browsing the bookstore and being surprised as usual by another bright, quirky cover. Maybe blue for the colour?(less)
I had read Chester Brown's Louis Riel graphic novel and I heard about this somewhere and was curious enough to give it a try. My knowledge is quite la...moreI had read Chester Brown's Louis Riel graphic novel and I heard about this somewhere and was curious enough to give it a try. My knowledge is quite lacking in this, and from the characters in this book, could probably articulate my points as well as Seth, so I won't try. As Neil Gaiman said on the back cover, this book is the kind that makes you think of different ways, and "if you find yourself arguing with the page, or with the author's notes, I think Chester would probably like that too."
I'm still not sure how exactly I felt about this read. It didn't take very long - just the one sitting. Would I recommend it? Probably, but not for the artwork but the notes and appendices in the back, marking notable sections for clarification and further study. I do enjoy Chester Brown's artwork - the simplicity works wonderfully and often times no dialogue serves the most emotions - but most of this work was a bare scratch on the surface of the topic. On that note, I guess it isn't fair because it is a memoir and these were his experiences. It seems almost too simplistic way of looking at things, although I do find myself leaning a bit towards his views.
This is a topic that I do have to look into before I draw any conclusions. Maybe then I'll re-read this book in a new light and see what happens.(less)
I first knew of Jacques Plante through Canada's Heritage Minutes - those televised history segments honouring famous Canadians - before I had even wat...moreI first knew of Jacques Plante through Canada's Heritage Minutes - those televised history segments honouring famous Canadians - before I had even watched a hockey game. We're all familiar with shot from Andy Bathgate now, the one that allowed Plante to don a mask and change the face of the game.
This was a very enjoyable read. I'm not a Habs fan myself, but I do appreciate the history behind the oldest franchise, especially all the greats they've had holding their forts during their lucrative years. Todd Denault charts Plante's life from his humble beginnings in small-town Quebec, instilling in him a sense of pride and frugality that lasted beyond his years as a goaltending legend. An eccentric example of this was Plante being an avid knitter, making his own toques, which he seemingly wore as a statement piece because no one else did it. Teammates also remembered him as being a reclusive man, keeping to himself during long road trips between games. Even though he is first and foremost known with the Canadiens jersey, he also played for the Rangers, Blues, Leafs (recording his all-time best SV%), Bruins, and Oilers (WHA). With seven Vezinas, six Stanley Cups, and one Hart Trophy, it's hard not to be impressed with his accomplishments, but most importantly were the changes he made to the game: playing the puck outside the net to help out his defencemen, communicating with his defense, assiduously studying other goalies to refine his own skills, and becoming the first goaltending coach.
The interviews from his teammates, friends, and adversaries personalized this book, along with some vintage photos included. The books credited in the bibliography are great resources too, if you're curious like me and can't get enough of hockey books.(less)
An exquisite poetry collection, accumulated through 365 days via a New Years' resolution. Each month brings upon new challenges and delights. Whether...moreAn exquisite poetry collection, accumulated through 365 days via a New Years' resolution. Each month brings upon new challenges and delights. Whether they are short vignettes into a love life, sporadic memories of his parents beginning with ‘I Remember,’ or witty responses by verse to famous poets, George Bowering manages to forge new connections to his words. (less)
I only knew about this book through Canada Reads, and this is the third one I've read, with The Complete Essex County and The Best Laid Plans to go. H...moreI only knew about this book through Canada Reads, and this is the third one I've read, with The Complete Essex County and The Best Laid Plans to go. Having heard the radio debates before reading this, I did keep in mind that this didn't get a very positive reception from the judges, but after reading it, that is a disappointment because like Georges Laraque said, this is quite an accessible book. And although by the end of the week that word did seem to carry a negative connotation, I don't mean to say that the writing is too simple or the book is 'dumbed down' for the masses, but that the story is relatable because it talks about the process of working towards a life's dream and the disappointment that is always lurking beneath it all. I suppose this was always the choice to take out of the race, along with the graphic novel, but both deserved better.
This story centers around Digger (Tom Stapleton), who is a wrestler preparing himself to make the Olympic trials for the 2000 Sydney Games, and Sadie, a swimmer who is doing just the same. Their stories do not intersect at all to start off with, which is all well because the peripheral characters that make up the support system for these two are worth getting to know: their coaches, fellow trainees and confidants, parents, etc. Fly, Digger's friend, was easily my character for the humour he brought to whatever situation he happened to be in.
I am about as far from an Olympian as you can be, and I still enjoyed this story very much. I was looking forward to Sadie's story because I do enjoy swimming, albeit for leisure, but Digger's training was just as gritty and real - at some points it was like a chess match, his mind furiously going through the moves he could use to gain points and take down his opponent. The descriptions for the sports never do get tiring for me, I could nearly smell the chlorine from the pool, sense the constant pressure to keep shaving time off from their swims, sweat dripping from the athletes as they grind through their practices.
I'm not sure how long this book will stay in the public's conscience - even the Vancouver Games are fading fast from our memories - but it is a worthy read. It's not often I care about both protagonists; all too often the prose will be wonderful to read but the fates of the characters don't seem to be foremost on my mind. Not with these two. I cared about Sadie and Digger's journeys, and whether or not they'll finally make it to the Olympics to give it their all.
I'd definitely recommend this book. Angie Abdou has an almost methodical prose, in a complimentary sense, because the pacing ticks along and there's never a boring moment. The story moves. Some chapters are written with a near short story flourish because she compacts everything so smartly within the boundaries, but strung together, it makes quite a visceral read. (less)