“Telling Sonny”: A Review

When nineteen-year-old Faby attends the annual Vaudeville Show in her small town, she is hoping to escape to the drudgery of day-to-day life in the Gauthier household, where chores are watched over by the critical eye of Maman and Maman Aurore. The year is 1924, the setting small town Vermont, USA, and even though she’s been attending these fanfares since she was seven, Faby has no idea that this particular show is about to change her life.

“Telling Sonny” is the first published book of author Elizabeth Gauffreau. I’ve had the honour of meeting and communicating with Elizabeth through her blog, so was excited to read her work.

“Telling Sonny” reads like an historical memoir, the descriptive details effectively capture the ambiance of the era. As a reader, I felt myself swept up in the emotions of the story: fearing for Faby, wishing she’d assert more on her own behalf, frustrated by the helplessness of her situation.

Gauffreau’s gift is the ability to create an animated portrait of a bygone era and pair it with a timeless issue, culminating in a suspenseful and satisfying read.

I’d recommend “Telling Sonny” as a book club selection.

Well done, Liz!

Blessed Books

Saturday mornings meant a trip to the library – my favourite outing of the week as a youngster. We’d load our arms with picture books, until that memorable day when I graduated to Chapter books.

At the pique of my book blessedness, I owned two bookstores. And then, years later, we sold off our worldly goods and set off on a new, minimalist adventure. I reduced my collection to one shelf.

A bookcase reveals much about a person, don’t you think? Best of all – I have a poem in the volume “We Will Not Be Silenced”. A dream come true.

(Thursdays are my day for expressing gratitude. When I saw Cee’s Fun Foto challenge: books, I knew right where the post belonged.)

“Next Year in Havana”: Review

In 1958, Cuba is experiencing political unrest.  The Perez sisters, sheltered from the uprising by their social standing, look for opportunities to sneak out of the house.  During one of these outings, nineteen-year-old Elisa meets a man who steals her heart.  He is a revolutionary.  Their forbidden romance heats up as the plots against the government force the current leader to flee.  For their own safety, the Perez family must also escape, leaving their possessions, and secrets behind.

Fast forward to 2017, Miami.  Elisa’s granddaughter is planning a trip to Cuba, under the guise of a travel writer.  She is actually planning to carry out her grandmother’s dying wishes: to leave her ashes in Cuba.  Marisol hopes to learn more about the country of her heritage, encouraged by the romantic stories of her grandmother and great aunts.  Marisol encounters more than she anticipated.

Next Year In Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, is both historical fiction and modern day romance.  It examines the human aspects of political oppression, and offers a glimpse of Cuban life beyond the all-inclusive resorts.

As a reader, I found myself immersed in the descriptions of Cuba, interested in the questions raised by Cleeton’s characters:  Is revolution ever effective?  How does change happen?  What hope do people have in the face of corrupt government?

Next Year In Havana is recommended to lovers of historical fiction, romance, or human interest stories.  It would be a suitable study for book clubs.  The audio version, available through audible.ca is narrated by Kyla Garcia, and Frankie Maria Corzo.

 

 

 

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz: Review

The atrocities of Auschwitz are no secret, and yet, every surviving story reveals another angle, not only of suffering and inhumanity, but also of the incredible endurance of the human spirit and kindness in the darkest of moments.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is about a young man, Jewish, who volunteers for work duty and finds himself in an unimaginable situation.  He makes a pact with himself to survive at all costs, and it is this determination, and his ability to speak many languages that lands him the horrific role of tattooist – marking numbers on the throngs of arrivals.

Saving himself is not Lale’s only ambition.  Although his position sets him apart from the other prisoners, he is not without compassion, and offers help when possible.  He also falls in love.

Heather Morris was introduced to Lale Sokolov in 2003 as someone who might have an interesting story to tell.  All I can say is thank goodness for that introduction.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is written in short, to the point, vignettes, making it a quick and easy read.  Once I started, I could not stop.  I had to know what happened to Lale and the love of his life, Gita.  By the end of the book, I was sobbing.

I would recommend this book for book clubs, or even as an alternate text in high schools.

 

 

“The Distant Hours”: a review

The letter that arrives decades after it is post-marked is the first indication that Edie’s mother has been keeping secrets.  Although her mother is not sharing any information, Edie is intrigued enough to investigate on her own.  She finds herself visiting a decaying castle, where she encounters the Blythe sisters, and the mystery deepens.

Fluctuating between current and war times, The Distant Hours is richly descriptive, and offers an intriguing storyline as well as quirky, but loveable characters.  The castle, itself, with its draughty corridors and shadowy corners is the perfect setting to spark the imagination.

Kate Morton is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.  Opening her novels is like settling in with a comfortable old friend, knowing that the conversation will be lively and satisfying.

Other books that I have read and reviewed by this author include:  The Forgotten GardenThe Secret Keeper, and The Lake House.  

 

 

“A Land More Kind Than Home”: Review

Some books hook you right from the beginning and won’t let you go until you’ve drained every last word out of them.  A Land More Kind Than Home is such a novel.

Told through the perspective of three narrators, Wiley Cash’s tale of fanaticism in the south is a coming of age story, a murder mystery, and a study of human character.

Addie Lyle is an old woman with brass roots sensibility.  She hasn’t stepped foot in the church since the first incident, and she has made it her business that the children of Marshall don’t need to see what goes on either.

Jess Hall is at that inquisitive age, and together with his older brother, Stump, and a neighbour boy, they do what boys do – explore outside the permitted boundaries.

The third narrator is the old sheriff, Clem, who understands too well the heartbreak and senselessness of loss.

Fire and brimstone is being taught at the local church, and there are way too many snakes involved.

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall.

A Land More Kind Than Home contains scenarios that are frightening, including death scenes.  Sex is referenced, but not explicit.  This would make a good book club selection.

“Apprenticed to Venus”: a Review

Subtitled My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin, Apprenticed to Venus is the part memoir, part novel of Tristine Rainier, who mentored under the famous diarist.

Although  I have been inspired by Nin’s words, I have known very little about her, so I was eager to read this book.  Rainier, on an errand from her artist aunt, encounters Anaïs at her home in New York, and from there becomes part of the bizarre and tantalizing underworld of Nin’s complicated life.

The story begins with a very naive and impressionable Tristine, who is anxious to stay in her idol’s good books.  In modern day terms, Nin is a classic narcissist, who uses others for her own gain, and even though Tristine experiences the warmth and distancing characteristic of such a personality, she remains loyal to Anaïs, questioning her own motivations right to the end, and defending the lessons that Nin’s influence has taught her.

Rainier’s commitment to Nin is contagious, and I found myself also drawn in by the eccentric’s charm, wanting to know more.

Interspersed with Nin’s story is Rainier’s own story, from shy teenager to accomplished literary figure in her own right.

Apprenticed to Venus is primarily the story of two women and the bonds that define their relationship.  It is also about celebrity, and love, and the search for women’s equality.  There is nothing conventional about Anaïs Nin, as witnessed by Rainier’s account, and I think that is perhaps why I shall continue to be inspired by her.

“Before We Were Yours”: A Review

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate introduces the shameful story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an organization run by Georgia Tann, a woman who made money by abducting poor children from their homes and selling them into adoption.

Wingate’s novel imagines what life would be like for siblings taken from their homes and forced into Tann’s human trafficking scheme.  It asks the question: should the past stay in the past, or is there value in revealing truths?

The story unfolds through the perspective of two women:  one an up and coming lawyer and politician, and the other an elderly woman in a nursing home.  The women’s chance meeting, provokes the younger, Avery, to investigate the connection between May and Avery’s grandmother.

Wingate weaves an intriguing tale, and the audio version is equally entertaining.

While the historical context is fascinating, and tragic, I struggled with the characters, who seem too good to be real, however; this is fiction, and when the story unwinds to the benefit of all, I guess this is what readers suspect.

That said, I am glad I listened to this book, as I now have awareness of a topic that I feel deserves further attention.  Disregard for human life continues to be a problem.  Here is literature highlighting the atrocity.

The Alice Network: a Worthy Read

Charlie’s cousin Rose has disappeared, and refusing to believe she is dead, Charlie sets out to retrace Rose’s steps.  Her investigation brings her to the door of Eve Gardner, a cranky woman, with deformed hands, a clear drinking problem, and a luger.  Together, with the help of a Scotsman, with a shady past, the three head to post-war France to find Rose, and settle a grudge that Eve has been nursing since the first world war.

Based on the real life adventures of a network of female spies, Kate Quinn has penned an intriguing and suspenseful story of life on the front lines as fought in the establishments that played host to the Nazi’s during the occupation.

The Alice Network weaves together two stories, told through the perspective of each heroine:  the plight of the unwed and pregnant Charlie, and the heroic life of Eve.  The audio book version is effectively narrated by Saskia Maarleveld.  The characters are interesting and the story line offers just enough suspense to keep the reader engaged.

This book is suitable for book clubs, or those looking for a light summer read, with a historical flavouring.

The Alice Network was published by HarperCollins, June 6, 2017.

Weekly Challenge Wrap Up: Books

“I’m too old to change!”  Father snapped at me when I suggested that some of the stress Mother was suffering might have to do with his behaviour.

“Look in the mirror, Dad.  If you see a reflection, it is not too late to change.”

UnknownIt was a line I borrowed from Alan Cohen, an author I had stumbled across and come to love.  The words came from a book entitled:  The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  Cohen writes short, concise stories:  reflections on life.

Post divorce, I opened a book store, and then many years later, another.  I immersed myself in the realm of the written word, consuming anything and everything I could get my hands on.  It was distraction from pain, and provided the tools I needed to start digging myself out of the rubble.

I learned that I didn’t have the power to change anyone else, and yet, when I focused on self-improvement, others might just want to follow along.

Two weeks after our conversation my father pulled me aside.

“I know you are working on improving your life,” he said.  “Tell me what I have to do to change mine.”

I gave him a book.

***

It is not surprising that books have helped inspire and motivate us to make our lives better.  I am a firm believer that the thoughts that get us into trouble will not be the ones that get us out, so we need to look outside ourselves to make real and lasting change.

I was delighted at the feedback this week – some posted on the challenge, and some in ongoing comments.   Old, familiar titles were passed around, and new ones added.

I read mostly for pleasure right now, and not quite as often as I’d like, but the conversation has made me wonder if shouldn’t branch out a bit.

Of course, that is what this challenge is all about.  Connecting with others to ignite a new flame, or at least keep the current one going, lol.

Thanks to all who contributed, and to those whose comments added to the discussion. While not everyone linked back to the original post, I am including all who had a say in the links below:

Sgeoil

Stuff and what if…

Proscenium

lifelessons

Invisibly Me

If I missed anyone, please let me know.

See you tomorrow for a new challenge.

V.J.

(Featured Image from personal collection.  Couldn’t resist.  May the love of books live on for generations to come!)

 

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