Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Two Times a Traitor

Finished July 4
Two Times a Traitor by Karen Bass

This children's novel begins with 12-year-old Laz Berenger visiting Halifax with his family on spring break. Laz's anger against his father has been stewing for months, ever since his father's job took them to Boston. His father is ex-military and has high expectations for Laz, but doesn't seem to always care about Laz's own interests. Laz wanted to stay with the one friend he'd made in Boston and take a course in parkour, something he's been trying without instruction. Laz and his younger sister Emmeline grew up spending summers at their grandmother's house in the country where she insisted on everyone speaking French. This last summer, she gave him a Saint Christopher medal on a chain, something that had been handed down through the family for generations.
At the Citadel, an argument between father and son erupts and Laz rushes away from his family. He explores on his own, finding an underground walkway beneath the outer wall. In the dark, he trips and falls, and when he awakens he finds himself in a forest on a hill. As he begins walking around, trying to figure out where he is, he encounters a group of men dressed in clothes from the past, and they take him to a ship, where he is brought before the captain.
As Laz gradually realizes that somehow he has moved to another time, he begins to panic about how to get home, especially when the captain takes all his clothes and his medal, and tells him he is suspected of being a spy.
Laz's language skills, and his forthright behaviour bring him both opportunities and trouble, and before long, he is sent into Louisbourg as a spy to observe and report back. When the siege starts unexpectedly, Laz finds himself loving his new home and his master. He is now torn between staying with the man he has come to love and respect, and getting his medal back, which he believes is the key to going home again. He begins to wonder what home really is, and what he really wants.
This story is of a boy, moving from a rebellious pre-teen to an assured young man as he is forced to deal with his situation on his own. A wonderful read incorporating Canadian history and a great character.

Leave Me

Finished July 2
Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Maribeth Klein has a busy life as a magazine editor in New York City. She is the mother of 4-year-old twins, and her husband also has a demanding career. So when she gets chest pains at her desk one day, she pops a couple of Tums and keeps doing all the things that she needs to do. But when they don't seem to be working and she's feeling worse she mentions it at her scheduled ob/gyn appointment. Her doctor sends her to the hospital, where she learns that she's been having a heart attack for the last few hours and needs a stent. During that procedure, things get worse, and she ends up having emergency bypass surgery.
After a week in the hospital, Maribeth is home, where her mother has come to help. Unfortunately, Maribeth's mother isn't particularly helpful, and everyone seems to expect her to just pick up where she left off, and seem annoyed when she isn't able to do that. Desperate at her situation, Maribeth listens to her inner self, and does what many women dream of, but few actually do, and leaves a note and runs away to be by herself.
She ends up doing a lot of thinking, about her life, about her beginnings, about what she wants. And she makes new friends, who like her for herself, and encourage her.
This is a story of a woman reaching her breaking point, and doing something positive for herself. It's about realizing that we all need to ask for help sometimes, and that's okay. This is a book that is also a wake-up call to treat yourself well, because as important as it is to help those you love, you can't do that if you don't ensure you're good first.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

We Are Okay

Finished July 2
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This teen novel has a character who is very alone. Marin is in her first year of college in a small private college on the East Coast of the US. She grew up in California, near San Francisco, and lived with her grandfather, who she calls Gramps. Marin's mother died following a surfing accident when Marin was only 3, and she's a strong reader, with a good sense of seeing different explanations for things. When Marin was starting high school, she became close friends with Mabel, another girl from her school. Mabel lives with her parents Ana and Javier, with her older brother Carlos away at college. She's going to college closer to home, in Los Angeles.
As the story progresses, we learn about Marin's situation, and how it was living with Gramps, with their separate spaces, with his letters to a woman named Birdie in Colorado, with his poker nights with his friends. She remembers a time when she was younger, and stayed with one of those friends and his family, Jones. Jones' daughter Samantha took her to school while she was there, during a hospital stay for Gramps.
We learn about the intricacies of the relationship between the two young women, and about the seashells her mother's friends gave her at the beach. We learn about why she feels alone, and why she feels like everything she knew was not true, not really.
This is a story of a young woman forced to face difficult knowledge very suddenly. It is about fear, and embarrassment, and loneliness. And it is about friends, and family and how things continue to evolve. A great read.

Just Like Family

Finished July 1
Just Like Family by Kate Hilton

This novel has flashbacks to earlier times in the life of the main character Avery Graham. In the now of July 2017, Avery is working as the chief of staff to the mayor of Toronto, Peter Gaines, a man she's known since she was twelve, and he first visited his father's cottage.
The cottages on an unnamed Ontario lake are a big part of the story. Avery's family had one for her, her older brother Ethan, and her parents. Her friend Tara had one with her parents, and her friend Jenny had one with her mom Greta, and her stepfather Don. Peter is the son of Don who moves to Toronto from California to go to law school and be closer to his father.
As we step back into Avery's past, we see the closeness of the three girls: Avery, Tara, and Jenny, and begin to understand what has both kept them friends, and created some distance between them.
We see how a tragedy at the cottage deeply affected Avery, sending her on a long journey to find herself, if she ever stops running from her past.
In the present, Avery lives with her long-time boyfriend Matt, who also has an extremely hectic worklife. The two have a good relationship, but they don't see each as often as they'd like.
Avery really throws herself into her work, and a project for the waterfront that has been a long time in the making is finally being realized. When issues arrive to hold up the project, Avery tries to deal with them, but one of her contacts warns her that rumor of a scandal around the mayor is starting. While Avery is in the middle of this, Matt proposes, and Avery is scared to move forward, despite her love for him. We gradually learn, through learning her past, why she fears commitment.
Avery is like many women, extremely competent, smart, and respected, yet with a lack of confidence at her core. The situation she is in will provide a wake-up call that she desperately needs.

11th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

Here we go again. We have a new host for the challenge this year, but the idea is still the same. Read 13 books. This year the theme is highways and byways, so I'll try to keep it in mind while reading.

I'm excited to begin a new year, and actually got one started and finished on the first day, so will be posting that immediately after this one.
Thanks Melwyk for hosting.

Wrap Up of Canadian Reading Challenge 2016-2017

Well, I didn't read as many as I intended, nor did I get read books set in all the provinces and territories, but I did finish the challenge and enjoyed it.

10th Canadian Book Challenge
This challenge is hosted here. I've been doing this challenge for several years, and really appreciate John for hosting such a great challenge. He does a great summary list of books read by participants, both at the half-way mark and at the end, so if you are looking for books, these are great resources. Here's a link to the end of last year's challenge.
Here's a link to my commitment post.

1. Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James. Finished July 3. (set in England)
2. Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay. Finished July 12 (set in New York state)
3. Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box by Jonarno Lawson. Finished July 26 (no setting)
4. Far From True by Linwood Barclay. Finished August 1 (set in New York state)
5. Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone. Finished August 2 (set in the Soviet Union)
6. Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22 (set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia)
7. Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3 (set in Michigan)
8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11 (set in England)
9. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. Finished October 23 (set in Quebec)
10. Transit by Rachel Cusk. Finished October 30 (London)
11. Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8 (B.C.)
12. Strange Things Done by Elle Wild. Finished January 25 (Yukon)
13. You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann. Finished February 4 (no setting)
14. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18 (Ontario)
15. Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23 (no setting)
16. Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6 (Italy)
17. The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19 (Germany and England)
18. Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29 (Ontario)
19. A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30 (Ontario)
20. An Intimate Wilderness by Norman Hallendy. Finished April 8 (Canadian Arctic, mostly Nunavut)
21. One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker. Finished April 16 (set in US)
22. A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner. Finished April 18 (set in BC)
23. The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker. Finished April 22 (set in Toronto and Cape Breton)
24. Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 29 (set in Toronto and Iran)
25. Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Finished May 4 (set in Cincinnati)
26. Life on the Ground Floor by James Maskalyk. Finished May 29 (set in Toronto, Alberta, and Ethiopia)
27. Best Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Dean Griffiths (set on Crossbones island)
28. American War by Omar El Akkad (set in the United States)
29. Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Carmen Mok (not specific setting)
30. Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent by Marie-Louise Gay (not specific setting)

The Lonely City

Finished June 29
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing


I started this book in audiobook, but ended up finishing it in hardcover as the audiobook had issues with a couple of discs. Having recently read Solitude, I was wondering how much the two books would have in common.
Olivia is from Britain, but this book, part memoir, is from time she spent in New York City. Her loneliness in this new city led to her exploring the experience of loneliness, both her own and others. The word "art" in the subtitle is a key to the framing of this exploration for Laing. She looks at a number of artists whose lives and art speak to their experiences, many of them intersecting with each other during their careers. Her explorations begin with Edward Hopper and his famous picture Nighthawks. It moves from there to Andy Warhol, who she revisits repeatedly, looking at his famous interviews, and his Time Capsules, among other things. She looks at Valerie Solanas, her SCUM Manifesto, and her unique relationship with Warhol. She explores David Wojnarowicz's art and activism, including his Close to the Knives and photographer Peter Hujar, whom he had a relationship with. This also leads her to the photography of Nan Goldin, and her portraits in Ballad.
She looks deeply at the work and journals of Henry Darger, an outsider artist, whose work was only discovered after his death, and thus a subject of analysis by many.
She also touches on others such as Samuel Delany, and Greta Garbo.
During her time in New York City, Laing lives in various sublets, from the East Village to Times Square, and it is during the period in Times Square that she talks about the influence of the internet, being connected, and disconnected at the same time. It also makes her think of fantasy worlds like Blade Runner, and SimCity.
This book introduced me to so many artists that I hadn't been aware of before, and made me realize just how common loneliness is in our society. For Laing, art was a way of finding connection, or communicating with others. Definitely a book to get you thinking