books · Canadian books · summer

Summer Reading Reviews 2018

 

As another summer is swiftly coming to a close, I have been able to discover many new reads.  Above is a brief snapshot of a few selections that I have read this summer including a book completely found by accident.  Below are the reviews that I wrote for each book for my GoodReads account.  I tried to simplify by linking the URL but unsuccessfully so instead I have copied and pasted each of my reviews.

The Women of Brewster Place – Gloria Naylor

If you have ever read my other blog posts, you know I am a passionate reader of short stories.  This collection of seven stories was an accidental find in a school library this summer as I was proctoring exams at the end of the day.  I love it when a great book finds you!  These seven stories were both endearing and raw with some beautifully illustrated characters with varied life-experiences.  I loved how Naylor wove each woman into each of the other stories to bring us a picture of what and who Brewster Place was.

My favourite character in the seven stories was Mattie Michael.  Maybe because her story had the most information to her life as a young woman into her golden years.  I liked Mattie because she had grit, integrity and love in her even though the hand she was dealt in life was bitterly unfair.  Another character I quite liked was Kiswana Browne.  She was a character who really wanted to make a change for herself.  I felt she was an optimist in the face of great struggle and adversity.  The dynamic she has with her mother could be perceived as toxic but Naylor moves away from that when it is only goodness and love that Mrs. Browne wants for her daughter.  As the story evolves so does Kiswana as she tries to unite the complex and fight for the rights of the tenants.

The stories and woven so seamless into each other and even though there is a particularly violent scene in the book regarding one of ‘The Two”, it is a most necessary commentary on the time period and the perceived role of women within that society.  After I read that particular part of the book I felt a little sick because of the bare-stripped vulnerability of the character who is violently assaulted and left for dead.  She comes alive in a rage only to end another life.  Those scenes in books are never easy to read.  My impression was Naylor was trying to say many things through the character Lorraine and that horrific scene: that people can loose their humanity in an instant, that violence is still used to obtain power, that women are forever objectified in not just novels but other mediums, that people hate what they do not want to understand.

This was Naylor’s first novel but she writes so vividly with characters of various backgrounds and life experiences that it creates a wildly enchanting novel of women’s voices.

Pat of Silver Bush – L.M. Montgomery

I just adore L.M. Montgomery so it was great to read about Patricia Gardiner. A wonderful dreamy character who is fiercely loyal to her beloved Silver Bush and her family. A wonderful coming of age story about life on P.E. Island. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel to enjoy more adventures of Pat, Judy, Jingle, McGinty the dog and Gentleman Tom the wise cat. It was so lovely to read from my favourite childhood author again.

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Mistress Pat – L.M. Montgomery

L.M. Montgomery’s follow-up to her charming tale of Pat of Silver Bush is a fairly good sequel. Many of the characters come back into the story including one of my favourites, Judy Plum and all her wild tales along with cats Bold-and-Bad and Gentleman Tom. Montgomery also includes a new character in Tillytuck who comes to help Long Alec as a farmhand but becomes one of the family with his pet, Just Dog. He is a rival storyteller to Judy’s tales and adds some warm and depth to the story as a whole.
The story continues to focus on Pat as she grows older and her constant stream of “beaus” who she steadily rejects one after another. The character of Rae grows up quite a bit in this story and almost becomes the voice of reason where Pat is concerned. Montgomery is still a fantastic storyteller with vivid and descriptive language through the story although I liked the magic of the first book the best. Readers of the first book will like this sequel because it ties up many loose ends and character storylines which will leave the reader possibly unsatisfied or joyous depending on which “beau” you hoped Pat would end up with if anyone.

Elliot – Julie Pearson

Thank you to my local bookseller @epicbookshamilton for ordering Elliot for me. It is really tough to find books about foster care which is a topic close to my heart.  Having read many non-fiction books about adoption and foster care, I was looking for something better to share with my foster son.  I found this book accidentally during a Google search and was able to order it through my local bookseller.  I was not disappointed.

It is a great story and approach to what happens to a child who is placed into care.  The system is not always easy to navigate but here the author shows us what it is like to be in care from the point of view of Elliot a little rabbit whose parents have been struggling to take care of him.  He meets different families as he moves from one family to another and sometimes back to his birth-parents.  He navigates the system with his worker Thomas.  Further, the book has some beautiful illustrations by Manon Gauthier who uses collage illustrations in the story.

At the end of the story Elliot is finally placed with his forever, forever home.  This story has really resonated with my family because this is our personal situation.  We are hopeful to be our foster son’s forever, forever family but the system can be very unpredictable.  This is a necessary book. Children in care get forgotten and their experiences are so vastly different from other children.  This book gives them some hope, some understanding and something to look forward to as they try to work out all their feelings.  I highly recommend this book and it should be in all social workers’ tool boxes.

Frog Music – Emma Donoghue

Having attending a writers festival back in June (Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story), I was able to purchase this novel by acclaimed author Emma Donoghue. Frog Music was an unexpected gem. I have always had a soft-spot for historical fiction and this story intrigued me from the start. Although the novel is classified as a crime novel, it has so much more in it. The characters are both likeable and loathsome. When I first met Blanche, I was unsure whether to cheer for her or not. However, Donoghue’s protagonist grows on the reader as she works to solve the mystery of her friend’s Jenny Bonnet’s murder.

This is a story that is based on real people and events in 1876 San Francisco. The gunslinging is real, the baby farms are real as are many of the characters and events in the story. I loved that Donoghue wrote both women in such different ways. Jenny is a freewheeling, pants wearing, bicycling riding, frog catcher who defies convention at every possible turn. When the reader first meets Blanche she fits a stereotypical role of fragile heroine but that image is soon shattered as she finally finds her voice; her voice to avenge her friend, find her child and leave a sordid life behind her.

The novel also has an afterword which many readers are tempted to skip but this one is worth reading as Donoghue fills in many of the pieces as to why she wrote the book and various links of both history and music that accompany the story. She also includes a detailed French glossary to help the reader decipher the French through the story.

It was a most fascinating read this summer.

Braving the Wilderness – The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone – Brene Brown

Having read other books by Brene Brown, I was looking forward to this one, but it was just okay. She has some really great starting points but I thought there would be more development in each chapter. She tackles the reality of what is happening in much of the world today specifically the U.S. as she is an American writer, but I think she missing some points.

This book came to me at the right time considering all her chapter titles; specifically I am thinking about Chapter Five: Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil. In this chapter she points out the old argument of you’re either with us or against us. This is highly topical in today’s world. However she also asks the reader to challenge lies and most pass either/or situations into more critical thinking.

This book does speak to the collapse of true communication and what it means to belong in a society and how that challenges people to be more vulnerable and uncomfortable, yet finding that true sense of self. Brown has many good starting points in the book but something is missing.

I did appreciate her inclusion of many researchers and well respected individuals in various fields as she included both interviews, quotes and shared theories from these people. I admire her wanting to take on such a difficult topic that does need to be addressed in our ever-changing society but something was missing for me in the end.

The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

Clearly I had a fascination with one of my favourite childhood authors L.M. Montgomery this summer.  It was very interesting to go back and read from this author from the perspective as a adult.  Perhaps next summer I will re-read all the Anne books.

This novel started in a horribly depressing way when the reader meets the protagonist Valancy who has really never taken any chances at all including falling in love.  Her mother is horrid along with the cousin that lives with her.  Long before society identified verbal abuse, it is clear that this is that fate of Valancy while she continues to live with her mother.  Finally chance intervenes when she is diagnosed with a fatal heart condition.  She tells no one of this as she extended clan is just a terrible as her mother.  They are truly unlikable characters who treat Valancy as less-than human on some occasions.

As she throws caution to the wind, she becomes involved with Barney who is deemed as dangerous by the rest of the town. In Montgomery’s typical fashion she creates some greatly visual characters during Valancy’s transformation. The story is both tragic and triumphant as Valancy finally finds herself after a lifetime of searching. A great book for those who love romantic writers like Montgomery.

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