Water from My Heart by Charles Martin is one heck of a good story. I couldn’t put the book down and was thoroughly captivated by allThe Short Version
Water from My Heart by Charles Martin is one heck of a good story. I couldn’t put the book down and was thoroughly captivated by all its characters. While some readers have shelved this book as romantic fiction, not a genre I often read or as Christian fiction, something I occasionally read; to categorize this book by limiting it to one genre or to put it into a specific box would do the book a major disservice. It’s a book I think that most readers will enjoy. Besides warming your heart, its characters and story will inspire you. One of my few 5 stars reads this year.
The Longer Version
Water from My Heart is simply a terrific book. Charles Martin writes well and the book's characters are complex, strong and inspirational. Life’s happenings and challenges permeate the story and how people cope or adapt make up the primary plot. Some hearts open wider to share the load and offer others help and support; while other hearts shut tighter as a protective and defensive measure.
There is some fun escapism in the book but it’s not over done and is well contrasted with the real world’s harsh realities to deliver a message. For some characters money is plentiful. They live lavish lifestyles in mansions with yachts and host parties with pop stars and dignitaries in attendance. They travel to global destinations on a weekend whim - daily events that many of us can only dream of. There is also lots of excitement in the story line about drug running and high stakes poker games. Corporate business takes on the little guy to crush them heartlessly in the relentless pursuit of gaining more power and control. Good versus Evil has always been one of my favourite themes in books. It is a major theme in Water from My Heart and Martin handles it well.
In addition, there is international flavour and adventure throughout with settings in Biminis, Bahamas, Costa Rica and Nicaragua - fishing, trawling, cutting sugar cane and harvesting coffee beans and mangoes. The landscapes are quite different with lush scenery and nature’s abundance everywhere. In the poor countries, there is none of the lavish lifestyles mentioned earlier. There is hard back-breaking work, poor health care for the ill and aged, and only simple, very basic meals. And yet there is always something to share with families, neighbours and unexpected strangers. The love, generosity and community in Nicaragua is very strong and transcends any of the sparsity and struggles as a first priority. Despite the poverty and difficulty of the natives’ lives in Nicaragua without clean water or medical services we see a generosity of community, sharing and love often missing in much richer nations.
All of the background settings and sub plots are just that. They are only a back drop to the real story. While Martin keeps things interesting and certainly had me turning pages without stopping - it was the characters and the message that are the real heart of the story. It is a story of love and redemption, of rebuilding oneself, a family and community. Fabulous characters and a fabulous story that you won’t be able to put down. One of my very few 5 star reads this year.
Fictional Story but Based on True Events
In a sort of Afterword at the end of the book, entitled On Digging A Well, I learned that this book was written by Charles Martin’s as a result of his experience in Nicaragua in 1988 after Hurricane Mitch stalled over Nicaragua as a Category 5 monsoon. The huge down pour of rain and high winds that resulted caused a mudslide, one mile in width that travelled one hundred miles per hour down a mountain for some thirty miles out to the Pacific Ocean causing many deaths and a great deal of devastation along the way. Charles Martin visited shortly afterwards when the rebuilding of the country had just begun. The country he became acquainted with, the challenges and its people inspired Martin to write this book. In particular two real life people he met, who were part of the rebuilding team; became the inspiration for his fictional story and two of its characters.
Martin writes about his experiences in different parts of the world and comments
“Each of these experiences challenged by callous indifference; they cut me deeply…. But it was Nicaragua.....that broke through the granite in me. Let me say this directly: Indifference is the curse of this age. We need to hear that. Indifference is evil.” ...more
Margaret Laurence is a great writer. Her style varies from simple and sparse to detailed, fresh and descriptive. She also writes abouThe Short Version
Margaret Laurence is a great writer. Her style varies from simple and sparse to detailed, fresh and descriptive. She also writes about things going on both inside a character’s head and outside in life, so one gets a more insightful understanding of the characters. In this case, Laurence focuses primarily on the main character named Rachel – a young woman in her mid thirties who has never married and still lives at home with her widowed mother.
The dreams and longings of Rachel are what much of the book is about. Laurence displays a deep understanding of human nature and while written 50 years ago, the book is still relevant today. Its longevity and great writing is why A Jest of God is deservedly considered a Canadian Classic and why it was made into a movie called Rachel, Rachel starring Joanne Woodward and directed by Paul Newman.
Even more impressive is Laurence’s breaking of barriers. Her strong feminism comes through in her writing. She introduces a lesbian character into the story, quite taboo, when you consider the time frame. Apparently, there were strong attempts to keep A Jest of God and The Diviners out of the Ontario School Curriculum due to some parents’ and religious zealots’ ill conceived notions of being a bad influence on young people.
A Jest of God is the second book in the 5 book Manawaka sequence by Margaret Laurence. I marvelled at and enjoyed both the first and second books and plan to continue reading more in the sequence. My review has not done Laurence’s writing justice. This book is as fresh and insightful today as when it was first published in 1966. You’ll just have to read the book and discover this for yourself.
The Longer Version
This review is really difficult to write. I’m not quite sure what to try to explain or how to describe what I read. In short, I really enjoyed the book and feel that Margaret Laurence is a writer extraordinaire. I can’t quite explain Laurence’s writing style – you’ll simply have to read it yourself to experience it. She is at times very simple and sparse. At other times very descriptive; sometimes describing people and things in ordinary and realistic ways and at other times quite the opposite – using quite unexpected but point-on, detailed, fresh and descriptive ways. Her understanding of people, their most private thoughts and relationships are deep and insightful. She really delves into characters’ innermost thoughts.
While I read A Jest of God almost 50 years after it was originally published, it didn’t feel dated. The story still felt very true and authentic. It’s about a 34-35 year old woman’s coming of age. She’s still living at home providing support to her aging mother who’s suffering from a fragile heart and a passive-aggressive dominating nature. Rachel, the primary character and first person narrator, has stayed at home to support her mother while teaching grade two at a local grade school in a small, fictional town in the prairies called Manawaka. She has never married, not really dated much and has fully invested herself in her young charges at school and her possessive mother who worries and waits for her at home. All of this external attention has caused Rachel to forego a longing for companionship, sex and children of her own but in the socialization of the period (and unfortunately sometimes still existing today), Rachel has ignored her own desires and focused instead on others.
Laurence introduces a lesbian to her readership in the story – something not usually “talked about” and therefore quite ahead of its time 50 years ago. Apparently, there was a lot of controversy over this book as well as The Diviners (also in the Manawaka Sequence) and some fairly successful attempts to abolish both books from Ontario’s school curriculum.
Laurence is so good at describing Rachel’s feelings – both on the outside and on the inside. Much of the story is about what is taking place inside Rachel’s head. We get to read about all the conflicting and judging thoughts going on there – yes…no… go…stop… want…can’t…should have… should not have… well done… what a mistake …could…couldn’t – basically a bunch of busy bantering going on constantly. Given her circumstances, it’s no wonder that Rachel is her own worst critic – she was raised and is still in the daily company of a passive aggressive mother, who is constantly questioning her, treating her like a child and providing negative feedback. Her father has long been absent – in emotions, in love and in child-father bonding and relationships. Later in life and far too soon, he was physically gone as well. It’s not hard to imagine how different Rachel’s life might have been had her parents had a good relationship and her father lived a lot longer.
My version had an Afterword by Margaret Atwood which was a real bonus and special treat. It gave me a better understanding and a greater feeling of lightness about both of these great Canadian authors.
I was so intrigued by Laurence’s writing that I wanted to learn more about her as a person and found a lot of information in the following link including an interview with James King who wrote The Biography of Margaret Laurence that was authorized by her children.
As you can perhaps tell by my enthusiasm I plan to continue reading the Manawaka Sequence. I read Stone Angel and really enjoyed it; and similarly felt that A Jest of God, (written chronologically as book 2 in the 5 book sequence) was excellent. Both are similar in that they delve into feelings and thoughts and that Laurence features inner thoughts as part of the story. They both seem loosely connected because they feature strong female characters who live in the same fictional prairie town called Manawaka in rural Manitoba. I don’t feel that the order of reading is particularly important and that each could be read a stand alone book.
If great writing, psychology and human relationships interest you, neither A Stone Angel nor A Jest of God will let you down. ...more
I forgot how much I love Louise Penny and this series. I savoured Bury the Dead although it was very tough to slow down and not devouThe Short Version
I forgot how much I love Louise Penny and this series. I savoured Bury the Dead although it was very tough to slow down and not devour. Bury Your Dead is the 6th book in The Inspector Armand Gamache Series and one of the best books in the series that I’ve read so far. It is in the Top 6% of books I’ve read so far this year and one of only two 5 star ratings.
Why did I rate this book so highly? - the great writing, the tension, creativity, multiple complex plots, high interest, engagement with wonderful characters and in this case the setting of the Old Walled City inside Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
Louise Penny’s writing skills are superb and she is a terrific mystery writer. Her plots are well researched and I learn a lot. The plots are complex, carefully crafted and layered with many sub plots. Her pacing is excellent and she kept me interested, engaged and guessing throughout. Among other awards, this book won the 2011 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel voted on by the largest mystery readers’ organization in the world with members from nineteen countries.
Penny’s characters are very well developed. Like the plots, they too are complex and multi-layered and I learn more about them with each book. At the heart of this book is Inspector Gamache, Chief de Sûreté du Québec. I consider him to a Renaissance man – charming, well read, intelligent, intuitive, soft and yet firm, and full of integrity. All these attributes and more shine through in Bury Your Dead. It is not surprising that in 2011, its inaugural year, The Canadian Bookie Award Nominations had Gamache as a nominated favourite character.
Penny’s writing makes me feel like I was walking on the cobble stones in the narrow streets within the walls of Quebec City. I could smell the dirt cellars in buildings and see The St. Lawrence River and The Plains of Abraham. I have been fortunate to have spent time in the Old Walled Quebec City and all the locale and memories came alive for me thanks to Penny’s descriptive writing.
Highly Recommended. For fullest pleasure, I’d suggest that you start with the 1st book and read the rest of the series in order.
The Longer Version
Bury Your Dead is another great mystery by Louise Penny. It is number six in The Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series. I thought this was one of the best that I’ve read to date even with a fairly limited appearance by the Three Pines ensemble cast whom I always really enjoy. The book has so much going on and so much going for it, that it’s not surprising that Bury Your Dead won numerous awards including the 2011 Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel – a prestigious award because it is voted on by members of the largest global mystery readers’ organization with members from 19 countries.
The book is primarily about Armand Gamache, the Chief Officer of the Surety, and features his incredible police research and puzzle solving skills. Most of the story takes place in the walled part or the old part of Quebec City where Gamache is recuperating from a gun shot wound and stroke that happened in the line of duty when he and his staff helped avert a major near catastrophe.
Gamache is spending time with his retired boss and mentor – Emile Comeau. Gamache’s recovery seems to be more psychological in nature than physical as he takes the needed time to process all that has happened. Some of Gamache’s staff are killed during the stand-off and as a boss who loves his staff like they are family and always puts himself in front of them in the line of fire – it is a very difficult loss for Gamache. He takes his responsibilities to protect his staff so seriously that he is still blaming himself and frequently dwelling on thoughts of how he could have prevented their deaths. The near catastrophe is revealed in flashbacks and Penny does an excellent job with this plot keeping me guessing and wanting to know more.
Having visited Quebec City several times, I found the locale added a special dimension to the story should also be enjoyed by those who have never visited. The old walled city is full of historical buildings and history and becomes a major foundation of Bury Your Dead’s plot as Gamache is asked to assist with an investigation in Quebec City with a buried Quebec hero as a possible motive for murder.
Emile is a separatist and Gamache is a nationalist (two different sides of a Canadian political issue on whether the province of Quebec should remain in Canada or become a separate country). These opposing views add an extra dimension to the plot revolving around the murder of someone who was trying to discover where Samuel de Champlain (the perceived French champion of the New World and a Francophone hero) was buried. Many older francophone intelligentsias and members of an elite, by invitation only Samuel de Champlain Club are part of the story. There is also a strong presence of the original English establishment as well at The Library of Literature and History who all become key suspects in a murder Gamache is asked to help investigate. As a reader, I certainly got a real flavour of both Francophones’ and Anglophones’ perspectives and what makes this province so unique and special in terms of culture and lifestyle.
Penny’s skill at developing plot is extraordinary. All her books, and this book is no exception, are well researched and very complex. The various mysteries are solved using old fashioned police detective work in addition to Gamache interpretations and projections based on what he discovers. He uses his intuition and numerous other skills at his disposal. His incredible knowledge of literature, history and Quebec politics are all integral to discovering the outcomes of the Quebec murder, averting the catastrophe and re-opening a closed case. These three separate mysteries are woven together seamlessly and kept me interested and engaged throughout.
Gamache’s ability to read people, interpret clues and rely on hunches is quite extraordinary and usually spot-on and his intellect and personality play a larger than life role Bury Your Dead. All Gamache’s personal attributes really shine in this book. Despite facing danger himself; first and foremost, he places his staff first. He is kind, loyal and every inch a gentleman yet never fails to stand up firmly to others when necessary in order to mete out justice properly. While Gamache’s primary concern is justice, he is a sympathetic and empathic man who also shows kindness to strangers and guilty parties.
As usual, Penny’s plot has many sub-plots and surprises and she fills the pages with wonderful research and historical information. Penny’s writing made me feel like I was walking on the cobble stones in narrow streets within the walls of Quebec City. I could smell the dirt cellars in buildings and see The St. Lawrence River and The Plains of Abraham where British and French troops fought and the new territory was lost by the French to the British. I felt as if I was sitting in Chateau Frontenac, an incredible Tudor style hotel with club members enjoying the fabulous views and minutes from the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was a special book for me because I was fortunate to attend a wedding at the Notre Dame Cathedral and celebrate afterwards on the Plains of Abraham in the Governor General’s summer home. All the locale and memories of Quebec City came alive for me thanks to the setting Penny chose but more importantly her excellent descriptive writing. This book would be a wonderful introduction to Quebec City for those who have never physically visited due to Penny’s writing.
Beside the tensions and flashbacks in the plot about Gamache averting a catastrophe through great sleuthing and sheer determination and grit – all of which kept me on the edge of my seat; there was another plot where one of Gamache’s subordinates revisits an old murder investigation at Gamache’s request and discovers a number of twists and turns in the process. This book is filled with three major plots, many interesting characters and great writing.
Most importantly, it really puts Gamache front and centre in the book. I consider him a Renaissance man – charming, well read and full of integrity. All of these fine attributes and many more shine through in Bury Your Dead. It’s not surprising that in 2011, in its inaugural year, The Canadian Bookie Awards nominated Gamache as a favourite character. I will be sad when the series ends because I cannot read enough about this wonderful man and Chief de Sûreté du Québec. So scintillating and satisfying. A well deserved 5 stars. ...more
Etta, the character and primary first person narrator is delightful. I found Emma Hooper’s writing style to be fresh and innovative.The Short Version
Etta, the character and primary first person narrator is delightful. I found Emma Hooper’s writing style to be fresh and innovative. The cadence and substance of Etta’s voice, both inside and out, almost sounded like singing to my ears. I wasn’t reading. Etta was singing out loud.
The author also used some very creative presentation and page layouts e.g. extra spacing and line length to draw attention to certain phrases. The book is written as a combination of realism and magic realism, which I quite enjoyed. Suffice it to say – the book is full of magic and magical moments. I enjoyed the books’ characters, its themes of love and loss, its stories of wonderful friendships and especially Etta’s great voice - optimistic and so wise.
If I could I would rate the book 3 1/2 stars on Goodreads – the extra 1/2 star for the author’s writing ability. While “in the moment” I enjoyed Etta and the other characters, I’m not sure that they are memorable enough to remain with me for a long time. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a strong enough plot to compensate for my lack of full engagement with the characters. Tough choice but due it to the book’s lack of stick-to-itiveness as memorable fiction, I’m rounding down to 3 stars.
I have no regrets reading the book and fully enjoyed it. I think the story is lovely, quiet and sweet and will likely appeal to any reader looking for a quick and thoughtful read. I am looking forward to reading more books by Emma Hooper. This book after all was her debut novel and I thought it was a well done first attempt.
The Longer Version
The writing and the narrative voices in this novel are fresh and captivating. Etta, the primary first person narrator, is an older woman who sets out from Saskatchewan on foot and with a destination of the Atlantic Ocean in mind. She talks to herself both out loud and in her head. What she says is very poetic and quite musical. Her speech patterns seem to have a special cadence that almost sounds like singing. It is a delightful and optimistic narration that is very pleasant to listen to. Throughout the book, I felt I was “hearing” Etta’s voice not “reading” what she had to say. Hooper also uses some very creative presentation and inventiveness in her page layouts – providing lines of differing lengths and extra spacing – to draw deserving attention to this special voice.
Etta’s companion on her journey is a coyote named James. She befriends him and talks to him as they travel. James adds an unusual and unexpected element – another sort of magic that Hooper infuses into the story. James forms a unique attachment to Etta and looks out for her and guides her while she’s travelling on her own and sleeping out of doors.
Back at home, Etta’s husband Otto is suffering physically. Their relationship is hinted at and provided in snippets and flashbacks. Otto supports Etta wishes by not chasing after her on her journey as she has expressed her desire to travel on her own. It is clear however that he misses her a great deal and how much he has depended upon her over the years. Otto’s sleeping patterns get totally disturbed and he starts having spasms that prevent him from sleeping at all, neither during the night nor during the day. But even in her absence, Etta is looking out for Otto as she has left some recipes for him for food and natural sleep aids that Otto finds and starts making for himself. He too becomes quirky like Etta, and starts creating and placing paper mache animals and objects all over their front lawn. It keeps Otto busy in his solitude as he happily makes a huge surprise for Etta to find when she returns.
Etta has a very good friend, who is also a childhood friend of Otto’s, who lives on a nearby farm. Russell really loves Etta, although she chose to marry Otto and Russell never made his romantic love known to her. Russell has remained single so this unrequited love relationship adds some extra dimension to the story. The relationships between the three friends are all very strong and sweet – both their individual friendships with each other and the strong bonds they share as three long time friends.
Hooper weaves the past and present together in the story so we learn about the characters from a young age and how they came to be the octogenarians they are in the story. It appears that Etta is suffering from declining memory and dementia and is often getting the past and present mixed up; as well as mixing up her own life’s memories with others’ life memories that she’s either heard about or lived through – Otto’s in particular. The dementia element of the book was a surprise to me but I found it believable and well done and thought it fit nicely into the story line.
A quote on page 137 sums up how Etta lives her life and will give you a sense of her adventure and loveable character – “We’re all scared, most of the time. Life would be lifeless if we weren’t. Be scared, and then jump into that fear. Again and again. Just remember to hold on to yourself while you do it.”
Etta is a very special main character and Etta, Otto, James and Russell is a 3 star creative, well written and enjoyable debut novel. ...more
I enjoyed The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I thought Chevalier was particularly good at developing characters and thoroughly enjoThe Short Version
I enjoyed The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I thought Chevalier was particularly good at developing characters and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the book’s strong female characters and their supporting cast. The story’s setting was in Ohio during the time of The Underground Railway when slaves were fleeing for freedom. Bounty hunters, peace loving Quakers and American quilts were all included in the story but one really wouldn’t learn a great detail about these topics as they were mentioned quite superficially and not delved into too deeply. This background definitely added interest to the story but not a great deal of information or knowledge.
The book’s story and plot is primarily about relationships, friendship and sisterhood, love and duty; as well as, the difficulties that both the slaves and supporters helping to free the slaves had to deal with. The writing flowed well and I was thoroughly engaged by the relationships throughout. I found The Last Runaway to be a quick an enjoyable 3 star read.
The Longer Version
The Last Runaway was an in-person book club choice that I enjoyed. It’s an historical fiction that takes place in the 1950’s primarily in the state of Ohio. During these times, many slaves were trying to run away to freedom using connections found in a formalized support system known as The Underground Railway. Many bounty hunters were making a profit by tracking down and capturing slaves while they were trying to escape. The captured slaves would be returned to their masters for a price or reward. The risks were high for both the slaves fleeing and those helping the slaves escape to freedom, as severe beatings and death were not unusual.
I enjoyed the character development in the book and felt Chevalier did a good job of bringing strong female characters to life. There was Honor, a young Quaker with a strong commitment to equality for all people, who left England with her sister and crossed an ocean to start a new life in an unknown country. There was also Belle, a fiercely independent rifle toting designer, owner and operator of a millinery store who helped the opposite side of the cause that her brother Donovan was on as a slave bounty hunter. Belle was fair to all and fiercely loyal to Honor whom she met and befriended while Honor was travelling alone to her new home in Ohio. There was also Mrs. Reed an elderly black woman who was heavily involved in The Underground Railway. She was an excellent artistic quilter, gardener and cook who had a terrific sense of fashion. She was also fearless and kept a light on in her window to let all slaves on the run know where they could find help.
There were numerous other characters in the plot - Honor’s husband Jack, his sister and mom, their daughter Comfort, Adam, Abigail, Virginie and too many more to mention. By reading everyone’s stories, one certainly gets a sense of what it was like to be a slave fleeing, to live on a farm or in a very small town with very few homes and retail stores making up a community in rural and early developing America. Life was difficult and the climate and work hard. There was lots of sweat, calluses and back breaking labour required in very harsh outside elements. The sheltered life inside plain, wooden homes with little indoor amenities was just as difficult. There was only an outdoor water pump and outhouses. Housework and feeding a family took up full days and nights as this was long before every home had modern gadgets to make life easier.
While I learned much more than I knew about quilting before (though I really didn’t know much), most of the information about the Quakers and The Underground Railway was not particularly new to me as I’ve read other books on these subjects. I think this book might be informative to readers new to these topics but there really wasn’t a lot of in-depth information provided and the topics were dealt with rather superficially. This lack of in-depth information wasn’t a drawback however, unless that’s why you selected this book.
I was surprised that the Quakers were portrayed so passively in this story and didn’t take a very active role in standing up for or contributing to freeing the slaves. I’m not sure whether this is fictional or factual or just Chevalier’s take on one congregation of Quakers who were particularly passive due to their fear and past experiences. Chevalier definitely piqued my interest to read more to find out if the Quakers’ lack of advocacy was mostly fictional or possibly true.
Overall, I thought the historical setting and details were more of a back drop than the back bone of the story. The book is really all about the story line and Tracy Chevalier is a great story teller. Her writing is good. It flows well and she does a wonderful job of developing characters. She also interwove a number of plot lines – the slaves fleeing, the almost romance, the difficulty in becoming part of a new family and community, the marital conflict, the running away. All were handled deftly. I thought the author’s timing was good as was her ability to develop suspense.
The book’s story and plot lines are mostly about relationships, friendship and sisterhood, love and duty; as well as, the difficulties of life in general for everyone and in particular for the slaves and supporters trying to free them. The writing flowed well and I was particularly engaged by all the relationships throughout. I found The Last Runaway to be a quick and enjoyable 3 star read. ...more
My Name is Lucy Barton is a short, quiet and reflective read. The primary character Lucy Barton is also the narrator who shares bits and pieces of herMy Name is Lucy Barton is a short, quiet and reflective read. The primary character Lucy Barton is also the narrator who shares bits and pieces of her life with the reader.
It reads a bit like a memoir but in a sort of a peek-a-boo style. There are hints sometimes but no completion. Or the author, Elizabeth Strout, will share one full clue but provide no further information about the questions the clue has raised. At times I became rather irritated and impatient with the delay but then would settle back into the book and discover something new about a different part of Lucy Barton’s life. I became accustomed to the story’s pace and found its ebb and flow rather soothing.
This bit by bit release of information created suspense in a novel that essentially has no plot. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be fly fishing – casting the line, hooking a fish and then giving it extra line to swim (or run) and then reeling the fish in a bit closer before once again giving it extra line for more struggle and swimming and tiring, reeling it back in again, and again and again until the fish is totally exhausted and can be reeled right in. This fishing technique is as close to the describing the writing style Stroud has chosen for telling this story that I can come up with. Stroud gives a bit of information, and then slows down in order to allow the reader to reflect. She then provides a bit more to engage the reader only to slow down again. I felt this technique was quite effective for telling Lucy Barton’s story.
Lucy’s story isn’t really complex. It’s a collection of different happenings in her life – initially seemingly isolated and unrelated but in the end forming a fuller understanding of the woman that Lucy has become.
Much of the book takes place either in Lucy Barton’s head or in conversations with her mother – a mother who she hasn’t seen or spoken with in many years but who shows up unannounced at Lucy’s hospital bedside. Lucy’s life is revealed randomly and not unveiled in any chronological order. It’s almost like Lucy is sharing flashbacks as they pop into her head. Much of her life is a mystery and snippets of information are revealed here, there and everywhere – in Lucy’s words, in memory, in her mother’s words, from years ago in childhood and days ago in the hospital. Eventually the pieces are viewed together, one gets a much fuller picture of Lucy’s childhood and adulthood and all the family members and relationships that have made her into the person she seems to be.
I paused frequently for reflection while reading My Name is Lucy Barton. I enjoyed the writing and think Stroud is a talented and quiet reader I should read more of. She seems to have an excellent handle on human relationships and I enjoyed viewing people from her perspective. The writing is soft and quiet interspersed with sharp and enlightening. I quite enjoyed the mystique that permeated the book and think I might reread it again sometime. Rereading a book isn’t something I usually do but I’m sure I will learn even more the second time around. The writing is soothing as well as smart – both good reasons to reread and to recommend. ...more
The Black Notebooks is a study in contrasts. It is a study written by Toi Derricotte, an award winning poet and university professor, who wrote this bThe Black Notebooks is a study in contrasts. It is a study written by Toi Derricotte, an award winning poet and university professor, who wrote this book over a period of approximately twenty years. It could be described as a memoir because it is based on Derricotte’s reflections on her own life but it is perhaps more aptly categorized as a study and examination of internalized racism based primarily on the author’s own life and her examination of the events and feelings she experienced.
The writing is primarily meditative and reflective, often in an impersonal, seemingly detached “watcher” or observational manner. At times it is very emotional, the language strong, demanding and out there. Derricotte’s words and stories are filled with love and joy as well as anger, well-founded exasperation and self-loathing.
All of the reflections are based on Derricotte’s experiences and interpretations. Most are based on what she experienced in the outer world and how it made her feel in her internal world but she also shares the stories of many people in her life (family, neighbours, friends, colleagues, students and acquaintances.) All of these stories help me understand the aggregrate black experience from Derricotte’s personal interpretation and perception.
It’s very eye opening. While some may think that racism is improving because of laws and societal change, what Derricotte describes is a deep racism inside every single being living in a racist society – particularly black people. Whites internalize racism also, even if they don’t realize it, by thinking and acting differently towards blacks at a gut or instinctual level. Often they’re not even conscious of their feelings, thoughts or actions because it’s been ingrained since birth in every experience that they’ve had.
The real damage however is the internalized racism that black people feel. From the time they are born they are bombarded with messages of not being good enough, sub par, dirty, unworthy. Small babies and children absorb this negativity into their own self worth or rather self unworthiness and begin to loathe themselves and to want to be different from what and who they are, to turn traitor to themselves in the aspiration of being worthy, loved, better, white. It is very sad.
As a black woman who could and has passed as a white woman for most of her life, as did her parents and relatives before her, Derricotte is in a unique position to write this study in internalized racism. Despite being able to “pass” as white she too writes about having absorbed all the negativity and done much self-blaming and self-loathing about her conundrum – wanting to love herself as a black woman but hating herself for being black and wanting all the privileges that whites enjoy thereby deep down wanting to be white to have and be worthy of these privileges. It’s a complex issue and Derricotte has done a masterful job of helping us understand the significant damage that a racist culture does to its citizens.
Many have lauded this book as one of the best books on racism in America. It was twenty years in the making – write, review, rewrite and then start the process over again and again. The book is powerful and accomplished in its writing and word choices, as well as in its honesty and rawness. Despite the difficult subject matter, Derricotte does a superb job with her writing skills and makes the reading palatable but not pablum. She doesn’t mince words but makes her points directly and kept me continuing to read along and join her in her reflective journey on racism and its terrible aftermath. The poet in Derricotte is very evident. Her descriptions and word choices are excellent and The Black Notebooks is very evocative as a result.
In 1998 The Black Notebooks won The Anisfield-Wolf Non-Fiction Award – “the only American book award designated specifically to recognize works addressing issues of racism and diversity. This award recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures. They are books that open and challenge our minds.” (quote from the Goodreads Anisfield-Wolf Award description) It was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I think this book should be required reading in schools, the workplace and elsewhere. Derricotte is fearless in sharing her story. I was moved, learned a lot and am grateful to her for her major contribution towards understanding and resolving this very divisive and unfair but fixable human issue. ...more
I was a late comer to reading John Grisham’s books. My partner read his first book and right on through. I wasn’t really much into mysteries and courtI was a late comer to reading John Grisham’s books. My partner read his first book and right on through. I wasn’t really much into mysteries and courtroom dramas, so I passed. Only recently have I started to read John Grisham’s more current books. However, I’ve noticed in reviews that many long time die hard Grisham fans don’t seem to like his new novels as much as his older ones. I can’t really comment on the older ones because I didn’t read them but what I’ve liked about some of his recent books is that he is tackling a number of current issues and weaving them into the story. For me, he’s making his books more relevant than a plain old catch the bad guy books with some suspense and court room drama mixed in.
The Rogue Lawyer kept my attention but I’d considered it just average and below the standards of Grisham’s other recent novels that I’ve read. I did like the primary lawyer or the rogue lawyer Sebastian Rudd as I’m a fan of characters with personality, attitude and chutzpah. I’m also fond of renegades who are fierce and fearless about doing the right thing. Rudd isn’t concerned about doing the right thing per se – but he is fearless, has lots of nerve and is pretty audacious. He’ll ask for and do just about anything for a client. He’s called a rogue lawyer because he defends the people nobody else wants to defend – the guilty but hey someone has to do it so Rudd does, and does a pretty good job of it.
Rudd’s character and style was the main reason I liked the story. There were also a number of other characters who added to my reading interest but Rudd was definitely the main man.
What I didn’t like about the novel was that Grisham had Rudd working on three different cases within the same book. I would have preferred that the novel focussed on just one case. It’s not that I don’t like stories with multiple things happening. Rather, it’s because the two other cases while interesting were not really developed very much and the dovetailed ending felt too convenient and unrealistic. Rather than increasing the realism that a lawyer works on many cases at the same time, I felt these other minor cases detracted from the many story line.
There was a thematic basis for thia book – police corruption but at times it seemed rather over the top. Parts seemed plausible but there was a rather large unbelievability factor for me.
Don’t get me wrong. At no point did I want to abandon the book. I enjoyed Rudd’s character, his predicaments, his style, and how he handled things. It kept my interest but I felt it was missing something. I think if the book had been written more tightly it would have been more successful. All the material and makings were there but weren’t delivered in as cohesive and flowing a writing style they could have been. Grisham should have focussed more on one full developed story, rather than one mostly developed and two hardly developed stories. The Rogue Lawyer had the bones and substance to be a much better book than average but unfortunately fell short. ...more
A fairy tale that’s true. It’s well written, short and to the point, filled with thoughts to ponder on a myriad of subjects. It wasn’t meShort Version
A fairy tale that’s true. It’s well written, short and to the point, filled with thoughts to ponder on a myriad of subjects. It wasn’t meant to be published but was written as a gift to a friend, who thought it was so good, the manuscript was submitted. Originally written in French and set in the post war rural townships of Quebec, it was translated by a multi-award winner for translation. The story is short and will make you think. It’s about individuals and community, love and family, rural and agrarian living and supposed progress. It’s an easy, pleasurable read and you’ll be thinking about it long after you’re finished reading it.
The Douglas Notebooks was originally written in French by Christine Eddie and translated into English by the multi awarding winning translator Sheila Fischman. It was recommended by CBC Reads – a Canadian Literature Discussion Group in a Bookish Advent Event – which provided daily suggestions in December for books leading up to Christmas. The recommended books were often wintery; sometimes feel good and all were touted as great choices to savour inside away from the harsh elements, with something to sip or a fire to warm you.
While many diverse titles were suggested, The Douglas Notebooks appealed to me because I’d been impressed with other books that Fischman has translated and the recommender described the novel as being “Beautifully written, full of heart, but never cloyingly sentimental, Eddie's book feels like one for the ages, relevant and lovely” – just what I was looking for.
The book didn’t disappoint. While the book’s introduction and publisher’s description calls it a fable, I wouldn’t categorize it as such. However, it does feature animals predominantly and there is definitely a pastoral element to the book. In fact, a major feature of the book is nature in all its wonder – the forest, the birds, the river etcetera all playing prominent roles. Eddie’s quality of writing about them was quite special – light, lyrical and lovely.
The story features a certain time (just after WW11) and a certain place (likely small town rural Quebec before major expansion and development). It was like stepping back in time into villages nestled into spaces where the forests had been cleared to make the perfect spot to build a homes and a village beside a river. All the villagers knew each other and each had a specialty or trade to offer so that the villagers could be self-sufficient without having any need to travel far. Effectively it was a simpler agrarian way of life where one was nourished emotionally and physical by the surrounding land and water.
The book is also a love story and a story of family, of friends and community, of commercial progress and the loss of the many of the old ways of living. The story touches upon loneliness and poor parenting; and demonstrates how fragile children are in their formative years and how they can be permanently damaged when constantly criticized, not supported or loved. This damage is heartbreaking but the story is equally uplifting in showing how just one heart and a bit of kindness can make a huge difference and create a great deal of joy and positivity, powerful enough to reverse years of negative impact. Despite some serious subjects, I found the book to be buoyant and hopeful.
I thought the review from B.A. Markus in mRB (Montreal Review of Books) that I read after the fact summarized the book quite well. “Eddie has written a modern fairy tale, full of magical moments and literary elegance, a veritable treasure for any reader who is hunting for a book that will console and inspire.”
While I knew that The Douglas Notebooks was a debut novel, I had no idea that Eddie had never intended to publish it. She had written it solely as a gift for a friend. At her friend’s urging Eddie submitted it to a publisher and it thankfully went to print.
I highly recommend The Douglas Notebooks. It is sweet, lyrical and magical. It is small in terms of length but huge in terms of all that it encompasses. It is filled with simplicity, wisdom, imagination and love. It a tale of life and simpler times and frequently causes one to stop and reflect upon – what have we lost and why did we choose to lose it? In fact, did we even choose or did it just happen? How can we learn from this about creating a world we want to live in? In everyday life Eddie gives us a myriad of layered topics to think about and does so in a very charming and poetic way. The Douglas Notebooks is definitely worth a first read……and many, many more. ...more
Hopeful by Shelley Shepard Gray was a book club selection in a genre I rarely read. It’s Amish fiction where the story takes place within the old AmisHopeful by Shelley Shepard Gray was a book club selection in a genre I rarely read. It’s Amish fiction where the story takes place within the old Amish community and generally involves some romance. I do enjoy learning more about the Amish faith and their traditions, culture and lifestyle; as well as their language; however, I have found the plot lines to rather predictable and bit simplistic and am not a big romantic fiction fan.
I enjoyed the fact that Hopeful taught me more about the old Amish way of life than I’d known before and thought the plot and content was meatier than some other Amish fictions that I’ve read. The author developed a number of interesting and multi-dimensional characters and featured them in atypical Amish roles. In addition to the typical romance, Gray intertwined other sub-plots that engaged me more fully in the story. All in all it was an enjoyable read. I’ve rated it as an average 3 star read but others in the book club enjoyed the book even more. If you are a fan of Amish fiction or want to give this genre a try – you might want to consider Hopeful by Shelley Shepard Gray. ...more