“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!

“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.  

 

 

“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.

“Half of a Yellow Sun”: Review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves an intricate tale, with well-developed characters and relationships, and just when the reader wonders where it is all headed, the unthinkable happens.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” is not a symbol I would have recognized before reading Adichie’s work.  Now I know that it is integral to the Biafran war, and the depth of atrocity that accompanied it.

Half of a Yellow Sun has rich storylines, and covers three different perspectives of the war:  Olanna, a woman raised by a man of power; Richard, an Englishman who struggles to find his place; and Ugwu, a man-servant.  Through these three voices, Adichie illustrates the complexities of a society struggling for identity amidst social and political turmoil.

Adichie understands the importance of story, and her work skillfully illustrates that even the most sensitive of issues have many sides.  I have only just finished listening to the audio version of Half of a Yellow Sun, narrated by Zainab Jah, and my mind is reeling with all the underlying implications.  This is definitely a novel I would like to share with a study group.

Adichie won many awards for this novel, first released by Knopf/Anchor is 2006:  Women’s Prize for Fiction, PEN/Open Book, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.

 

“Ordinary Grace” Engaging

William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace opens with two interesting events – a phone call in the middle of the night, introducing the main characters of the novel, and a mysterious death.  It is the beginning of a series of deaths plaguing this small, 1960’s Minnesota town.

Thirteen-year-old Frank and his younger brother Jake team up to investigate the mysterious happenings.  Their exploits – defying adult instructions – uncover more than the boys have anticipated, and they are forced to consider tough issues.

Rich Orlow lends his voice to the audio version of Ordinary Grace.  His interpretations of Frank’s attitude, Jake’s stutter, and the other characters are effective and bring the story to life.

Kent Krueger is a skilled writer, creating sympathetic characters and engaging the reader’s interest with twists and cliff hangers.  Appropriate for a young adult audience, this novel is also appealing to adults.  His depiction of early ’60’s North American life reminded me of my own childhood – and the issues society dealt with at the time.

“The Nest” of Entitlement

61nGgshIlVL._SL150_The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is an ambitious work weaving together many diverse characters and their overlapping storylines.  The central plot focuses around a family of four adult children all awaiting their slice of the coveted “nest”: trust money set to be released on the fortieth birthday of the youngest sibling.  Predictably something happens to thwart their dreams and each sibling finds themselves scrambling to deal with the fallout.

Apart from admiring the scope of labour involved in writing The Nest, I found it difficult to appreciate the novel.  I persisted mainly because of the acclaim the novel has received, but also because I thought I’d read that it gets better in the end.  It doesn’t.

The book touches on many topics relevant to today’s society, however; most of it feels contrived, superficial, even cliché.   Don’t count your chickens …could be the byline for the title, which is the main message of the novel.  The main characters are entitled and self-absorbed, a trait that we are led to believe stems from their mother’s alcohol induced indifference.

The audio version of The Nest is narrated by Mia Barron, who is particularly fond of emphasizing the final consonants of words:  good becomes gooddd.  Perhaps that contributed to my frustration.

Whatever the reason, I can only recommend The Nest as a light, easy read.  I won’t be recommending it as a book club selection, although we could talk about the missed potential.

Did anyone else come away dissatisfied by this read, or am just expecting too much?

“A Little Life” Big Read

As an audio book, A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, runs for over 32 hours.  I passed by it several times, but lured by the recommendations on Audible.com, finally committed.th

A Little Life is an admirable undertaking: the author has spared no details in weaving this tale:  establishing first the framework of relationships that form the web that holds the main character, Jude, afloat; dropping hints about the horrid past that defines him; and delving into the darkness of his continually thread-like existence.  The message here is not uplifting.  It is a study of despair.

The story itself is interesting enough, and what kept me engaged.  The narrator for the audio version, Oliver Wyman, is an effective reader, who injects the right amount of intonation to differentiate between characters.  The writing itself is fluid, and Yanagihara has mastered the ability to present the story in a nonlinear fashion, surprising the reader at every turn.  Yet, I am annoyed at the unnecessary repetition of details, such as listing the characters’ name over and over, and the continual insistence on the part of the characters that they are “sorry” for their behaviours, a trait that becomes more pathetic than endearing in the end.

Jude’s beginning is horrific, and as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can relate to the complexity of his psychological condition, however; after having stayed the course of this epic tale, I am uncertain as to Yanagihara’s purpose for writing.  Is it purely for entertainment, or is it meant to draw awareness to the irreversible damage of childhood abuse?  Certainly, “A Little Life” excels at both.  Or is it a commentary on how futile life can be if we are unwilling to reach out to others for help?  Perhaps.  While Jude never manages to escape his inner demons, it is the ease in which he achieves financial success and enduring relationships that leaves me dissatisfied.

Yet, who am I but a humble reader, who cannot begin to imagine the toil that goes into writing such an incredible saga.

I’d be interested in hearing what others think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“If I Fall, If I Die” Review

21462154Will has been all around the world, yet has never left home, such is the creative parenting of his single mother, Diane, whose paralyzing agoraphobia keeps them trapped Inside.   “If I Fall, If I Die” reminiscent of “Room” by Emma Donoghue, examines the life of a mother and son trapped in isolation, although in Christie’s version, the prison is self made.

As in “Room”, it is the child who first crosses the threshold to the Outside world, and here is where the similarities end.  Will’s encounter with the outer world is revolutionary – explosive, controversial, and dangerous.

Micheal Christie has weaved together a tale of mystery, family secrets, and the legacy of mental illness.  Set in Thunder Bay, Ontario readers will relate to the demise of a once thriving industrial town, now devastated by shutdowns.

When cold corruption meets the naive curiosity of youth, who will prevail? Read and find out.