Plenty of Books to Read

Plenty of books from Beth-Anne 

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

It was arguably the blockbuster novel of the summer and devoured by many hoping to satiate a whetted appetite for mystery, thanks to the smash-hit book turned Hollywood favourite Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.   In contrast, The Girl On The Train is easy, predictable reading but sometimes that’s just what a lazy day calls for. The mystery starts with Rachel, down-on-her luck and fragile as can be, with her days following a familiar pattern. Her daily ride on the commuter train takes her past the same junctions, the same scenery, the same homes and ultimately, the same people. Rachel becomes enthralled with a young couple she sees from her carriage and fantasizes about their lives. But then one day, the woman she calls Jess goes missing and an all-out manhunt is launched to find her. Rachel believes that she knows what’s happened to her, but how can the police trust this woman? As I was reading, I couldn’t help but imagine my favourite British duo cast as leads, Kate Winslet as Rachel and Jude Law as Tom. If you’ve read the book, what do you make of my casting ?

They Left Us Everything: A Memoir by Plum Johnson

Toronto-based author Plum Johnson wrote this tender memoir in the years following her mother’s death. Her parents met and fell in love during the Second World War. Her orphaned, British father was a decorated solider and her mother, a passionate Southern belle with an opinion about everything. After years of living in the far East in the late 1940s, they came to settle in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario. There they raised their four children in a twenty-three room home, accurately name Point O’View, that for decades served as the backdrop to numerous dances and arguments, love stories and heart aches and the occasional tantrum. Plum is now tasked with sorting through the family’s antiques and tchotchkes, but each treasure reveals more than a memory; it brings closure and understanding to a mother-daughter relationship that for years was strained and fragile.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner

Tenements of New York City, shirtwaists, turn-of-the-century immigrants, two stories -past and present – woven together . . .this book is right up my alley and I anticipated reading it for weeks; waiting for just the right time to sink into it. But I was disappointed by the syrupy dialogue and poorly developed characters. I found myself skimming over the pages just to reach the end.

Plenty of books from Nathalie

In the Woods by Tana French

The Likeness by Tana French

Faithful Place by Tana French

Broken Harbour by Tana French

The Secret Place by Tana French

 

Plenty of books from Carol

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

To purchase these books please visit Indigo, by doing so we receive a small compensation (a few cents per book) to help keep Plenty on-line. Thank you for your support!

There are Plenty more books we recommend: click May 2015 and November 2014 and November 2012. 

The Christmas Book Box

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Books are a big deal around here. It’s no secret that I wish all the boys in my life loved reading as much as I do, but perhaps they wish I loved fart jokes as much as they do. I try to encourage reading on the sly because anytime I stomp my feet and flail my hands in effort to get the boys onside with my desires, I am often met with sullen, uninterested faces or, more likely, a look that says, “she’s crazy!”.

I took the idea of a book box from my teaching days. I made a project out of it and engaged the boys from the beginning. At the grocery store, I casually mentioned that we needed a box. I didn’t give them any further details so when they were sorting through the heaps of discarded boxes that line the front of the store, their curiosity was piqued.

“Uh-uh. Too small! ” I’d say or “Uh-uh. Too big!”

When they landed on the perfect box, we brought it in the house along with the groceries, but I said no more about the box and deferred all questions pertaining to it saying that I wasn’t quite ready to share its use yet.

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A few days later, my middle one was lazing around the house, bored. Read: he was whining and I was quickly becoming irritated. I suggested that he decorate “The Box”. I gave him clues that guided his colour selection and sticker choices. Once the box was completely covered, I asked him to return it to its place on the floor in the dining room.

When the boys were at school, I pulled all of the Christmas and holiday books from our shelves and placed them in the box and then moved the box to a prominent location in our family room. I said nothing about the box, but when the boys came home from school they quickly thumbed through the books and come bedtime took a few upstairs with them only to return them first thing in the morning.

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I didn’t say too much about the book box but it’s now a part of our Christmas tradition, our Christmas narrative if you will. Each year the boys are eager to become reacquainted with some of their favourite stories and discover what new additions have been made.

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What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer’s novel follows four women who find themselves on the verge of transition. Having grown-up in the age of feminism with the prevailing message, “I am Woman Hear Me Roar!” they followed the expectations laid out for them: college, career and having it all, but for various reasons they choose to step out of the full-time workforce. Now their children are no longer demanding every second of their time, and a feeling of restlessness has set in. The women are plagued by indecision and feelings of uncertainty. Who am I? Are my skills obsolete? Who would ever want to hire me? I want to be home with my kids but why I do I feel so guilty? Why am I so jealous of my husband’s success?  What do I want to do?

These are just a few of the questions the women ask themselves while parenting through adversity, struggling with infertility, nurturing a marriage and balancing playground politics. The women lean on each other to find their own way and for this I commend the author. Wolitzer gives us a peek into the lives of these women and we see that no one has the answer; there is no “right way”. Perhaps it’s the timing, but I found myself lost in the story and relating to the inner struggles these women experienced. My only criticism is the title. To me, nap implies simply doing nothing or absently going through the motions and that wasn’t the sense that I picked up on from these characters. If anything, the women were actively involved in their family and work lives, but found themselves at a naturally occurring crossroads where they were forced to put themselves first before choosing their next path.

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Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia is struggling. She’s a young, unhappily married mother of two young children living a life of poverty in a run-down house on her in-law’s Appalachian farm. Her husband, content with the humdrum existence they’ve carved out for themselves finds odd jobs to supplement his waning farming salary. Her mother-in-law is quick to dole out disapproving comments and her father-in-law plods along with nary a thought of his own. One day Dellarobia witnesses a miracle of nature: the monarch butterflies that have descended on the family’s property are a metaphor for the epic shift that is about to happen in both her life and the environment.

Barbara Kingsolver is never one to shy away from controversy, and Flight Behaviour is no different. Kingsolver calls out the human race for our blatant disregard for the environment and failure to act on preserving our fragile ecosystems. The novel, while fiction, did cause me to look further into the migration patterns of butterflies and the disappearing bee population and the devastating effects both will have on our environment.

While this is not a quick read, I found myself savoring each page. Kingsolver is a gifted writer and crafts such realistic scenes that the imagery she creates is vivid and long lasting.

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Cathy Marie Buchanan brings the city, the works of Degas and the gruelling world of the Paris ballet to life in her historical novel, The Painted Girls. The van Goethem girls find themselves upended after their father’s death. With only a few coins in their pocket, the girls struggle to make a life for themselves. Antoinette finds work as an extra in a theatre production to supplement her wage as a laundress and soon finds herself entangled in a dangerous love affair. Younger sisters Marie and Charlotte both show promise as petite rats (young ballet dancers) and spend their hours toiling away at the studio, punishing their bodies. Marie is determined to rise above and escape her life of poverty. She begins modelling for Edgar Degas and is forever admired as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

Buchanan’s writing is so real, you can practically feel the grit of the Paris streets. If nothing else, you’ll come away from reading this novel with a greater appreciation for the art of ballet and the athleticism of the dancers.

From Nathalie

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The Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon

Oh! This is such a perfect book-lover’s beach read: a thriller about a near-future in which a virus attacks not just our smart phones but our very ability to speak.

In this near future, we drown in words but they all lack meaning, and much of that absence of content can be blamed on our increasing dependence on our devices.  Instead of phones, the ubiquitous device is a Meme, and it serves not only as a means of communication, but also as an extension of self and a substitute consciousness.  When the narrator enters a restaurant at the beginning of the novel, her Meme brings up the menu, but it then overrides her drink order, replacing a tea with a hot toddy, because it knows that she needs a stiff drink.  I marveled at this fictional creation!

Memes can also, crucially, give their owners the words or definitions they need if they have difficulty remembering a word or its meaning.  Five cents a word.  Touch of a button.  This exchange is where the novel plays out: in the space between our use of language and its digital and corporate control.

At first, the struggle seems to be over the ownership of words and their definitions, but when a virus that corrupts spoken as well as digital communication begins to spread, the stakes get suddenly and critically higher.

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Lost for Words
by Edward St. Aubyn

This was so good it hurt.  I loved St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels.  They were so beautifully crafted, but, because they dealt with child abuse and substance abuse, they were also really rather bleak.  Lost for Words is a departure, a very pointed satire about the book prize industry, the kind of book prize St. Aubyn narrowly missed winning with one of the Melrose novels.  The novel follows members of the jury for the Elysian Prize (none of whom actually read the books in the running) and some of the possible winners of the prize (the psychological disorders run the gamut).  I kept thinking as I read the book how much fun he must have had writing it.  He imitates academic discourse, precious prose and trendy grammarless dialogue with uncanny precision.  Accomplished parody is not an easy thing to pull off, but he gets the tone so perfectly.  And the way St. Aubyn satirizes politicians, academics and the press is sizzlingly good.  For most of the book, there’s really no one to like or to root for, and that can make it feel somewhat rudderless, but the plot has such a powerful engine that it’s not a big missing piece.  I devoured it and wanted more.

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Outlander
by Diana Gabaldon

There is so much hype about this book because Gabaldon has just published the fifth book in the series and it’s about to come out as a Showcase mini-series.  The protagonist Claire Randall travels through time from the 1940s to the 1740s, where she finds herself embroiled in rising tensions between the Scottish clans and the ruling English.  Because she’s a nurse, she’s possessed of miraculous knowledge and saves many a life while risking her own.  I don’t know, you guys.  It was really rapey, to use a phrase whose coining I will attribute to Jenny.  Can a woman not walk five paces in 18th-century Scotland without facing attempted rape?  Also, the bad guy is not only a sociopath, but gay.  I hate that kind of demonization of homosexuality.  I did stay up until 4 am reading it, though, so it’s a definitely a page-turner.  And its billing as a feminist answer to Game of Thrones may not be too far off the mark.  There was a lot of good sex, too.  So I’m giving this a thumbs up as a guilty pleasure, but with some reservations about its characterization of men.

Books, books and more books

My name is Nathalie Foy, and I am a book addict.  Also, a stationery addict.  Also, I buy too many pens.  I may be developing a similar habit with perfume; the jury’s still out on that one.

I willingly admit to buying way too much of what I have listed above, but in no way will I cop to the label “hoarder” or call what I have “clutter.”  It’s precious.  I have these absurdly abundant collections of things because they are a passion, not a problem.  It’s true that the sun will burn itself out before I have occasion to write a note in each of the thank you notes I have collected, but that’s ok with me.  I like to have a selection to choose from, and as long as stationery designers and etsy are still in business, I will keep adding to my collection.

It’s true that I will probably not get around to reading every single one of the books I have bought and that have piled up on my TBR shelf, and some of them (a very rare few, because I do read reviews and do my research before buying a book) will be duds that I give away after reading.  However, the books I read get marked up and annotated and they bear the trace of my having enjoyed them.  I have a terrible memory, so the marks I leave behind serve as an external hard drive.  You can’t do that to a library book, and I’m terrible about returning them on time, anyway.  I gobble my books, but the wonderful thing about gobbling books is that they survive the process and go on to live long and happy lives on a new shelf, in alphabetical order, so that I can easily find them again.  And I do go looking for them again.

imgres-1True story: I gave away a set of books once.  All of the books from my Old English class in graduate school and some Middle English books from undergrad.  I tossed the notes, too.  I felt assured that I would never, ever in my life need to look at those books and notes again.  Along came my kids who developed an interest in Beowulf and King Arthur and The Hobbit, which draws heavily on Old and Middle English, and where, oh where, were those books?  The collections of Old English riddles that I translated?  My notes on the Arthurian matter and where history and legend meet?  Gone, and I have regretted it for years.

Of course, I could have gone to a library for everything that I wanted, but I wanted my own books, with my notes and my marginalia.  My memory.

I don’t have a lot of patience for clutter or disorder.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.  I work to make that true for 90 80 70 percent of the house .  There are towering piles of books all over our house, but I look at them with nothing but fondness.  I enjoy putting order into the piles and sorting and shelving and relishing all the delights past and still to come.

Thank you, Mr. Sendak

We learned today that Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of such children’s classics as Where the Wild Things Are  passed away this morning, as a result of a stroke on Friday. He was 83.

It’s rare to find someone of my generation who did not read at least one of Sendak’s books as a child. I still have, from my childhood,  a hard-backed, well-worn copy of Else Homelund Minarik’s Little Bear. Little Bear was one of my first favourite books. I adored Sendak’s illustrations and spent hours looking at his drawings as I tried to decipher the words that accompanied them.  Sendak’s illustrations are  warm, and funny without being sentimental. There was a comfort in those drawings; a gentle reassurance that despite Little Bear’s (and our own, by extension) foibles, he would always be loved and cherished. I’m sure I couldn’t have articulated that thought, then; I just knew that something about those drawings made me happy.

Years later, I read that book to each of my boys, together pausing to giggle over the predicament of the bear who was too cold to play outside without snow pants, but who found his own pelt warmest of all; and rejoicing at the kind surprise of a birthday cake. Likewise, when the boys were small I found myself turning the tables on my own little Wild Things, threatening each that given the chance, I would eat them up, I love them so, only to have each flee to their rooms in mock horror, shouting “No!”.

It is the darker, harsher Sendak with whom most of us are more familiar: the disobedient Max and the petulant Pierre, whose only words are “I don’t care!” It is this version of which many of us are most fond. Sendak recognized that childhood is not all sunshine and happiness. It’s really a place of uncertainty. Children lack power, and they know that. Sendak’s best work illustrates what happens to a child in a fantasy world where they are in charge, safe in the knowledge that when things get out of hand, there is a safe place for them, and their food will still be hot when they return to it. Said Sendak:

“And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming wild things.”

It’s a testament to his gift that so many of us revisit his work time and time again now with our own children, encouraging them to tame their own wild things.

Wild Things Mural in the Children’s Section of the Richland County Library, Columbia, SC. Photo credit : Gerald Brazell on Flickr,  2011.

Curl-up this mother’s day with a good read

It’s been a long time since I have read a book and burst into the “ugly cry”.  It’s been even longer since I have devoured a book in two days.  Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s debut novel, The Secret Daughter, instantly captivated me.

The novel follows two families that couldn’t be more opposite.  Somer, an American born and bred physician and her neurosurgeon, upper class Indian husband, Krishnan has made California their home.  After a few years of marriage and desperately trying to conceive a child, they adopt their daughter from Mumbai (where Krishnan’s family still lives).

On the other side of the world, lives Kavita. She is a poor, illiterate village woman, who walked overnight to ensure her three-day old daughter was safely housed in the orphanage.

The two families are followed for more than twenty years.  The life that Somer dreamed of has left her aching and feeling like an outsider in her own family.  Kavita is revealed to be a dedicated mother and wife becomes the rock of her family.

It is a story that will resonate with any mother as it is a love story between two women and the daughter they both yearn for.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?  Please share your thoughts . . .

As always, I profess not be a review but merely a “suggester”.  If you want to read some reviews of this book check out the following:

Jules Book Reviews (a fantastic book blog)

http://www.julesbookreviews.com/2010/07/book-review-secret-daughter-novel.html

Life Just Became Simpler (includes a video clip of the author)

http://lifejustbecamesimpler.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/the-secret-daughter-beach-book-review-for-this-week

S. Krishna’s Books (definitely an insatiable reader!)

http://www.skrishnasbooks.com/2010/04/book-review-secret-daughter-shilpi.html

Give Reading a Chance

http://givingreadingachance.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-secret-daughter-by-shilpi-somaya-gowda/

Accio dormus

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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It’s after 10 pm. The boys have been in bed for a while. Every night, my husband and I take turns reading to each of them. Being two years apart, it’s been sometimes difficult to find one story that will interest both of them at the same time, so we tend to read to them separately. Right now, however, they’re fascinated by the same character:

Harry Potter.

Oh my word. Harry Potter, all day long. They throw curses at each other over the breakfast table (I’ve put my foot down: no Unforgivable Curses, please). Sebastian wants his own wand for his birthday. He spent a good chunk of yesterday pretending to smack his forehead on various hard objects, exclaiming ‘Dobby the House-Elf must punish himself!’ I’m tempted to hand him a sock if it will make him stop.

With Daniel, we’ve been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Because this is the darkest and most disturbing of all the books, we’ve insisted that he only read it with us, not alone.

This was a good move, apparently.

A few minutes ago, I heard Daniel call my name and tell me that he needed to talk to me. I usually try to encourage conversation before, rather than after the lights are out, but he sounded like he really, truly, needed my attention. I perched on the edge of his bed and stroked his hair.

‘Mommy, I’ve made a decision. I think I need to stop reading the Deathly Hallows until I’m older. I’m thinking about it all the time and it’s scaring me. I’m afraid it’s far too epic for right now.’

What followed was a whirl-wind, five minute conversation about imagination, about being allowed to quit something once you’ve started ( a life lesson that applies, I feel, to music lessons but not necessarily to novels) and about how to drive unpleasant thoughts out of one’s head at bedtime and how I’m pretty bad at it. It was one of those crazy parenting moments: touching, funny and, as I looked into his wide eyes, very, very real.

So, no more reading Deathly Hallows right now. No movie, either. All I ask is, until then, that you don’t tell him how it ends, okay?