Monthly Archives: September 2015

Unleashing the Minds of a Young Reader | Review of “Unleashed Retribution” by Sigmund Brouwer (2015) Orca Books

unleashed

I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program on Librarything.com

It takes a bit of an effort at times to engage a young reader to consider their world around them. There is so much that distracts them and confuses them. But perhaps having them read Sigmund Brouwer’s novel Unleashed Retribution might be enough to spark some consideration for them to ponder their lives and begin to ask questions.

Page 1-2

THERE IS NO ONE AROUND TO HEAR YOU SCREAM.

The words came into focus as I woke up on a toilet. The last thing I remembered was drinking Gatorade. Then a fog that had turned into midnight black.

Someone had ragged my unconscious body from the back of the mildewy gym where I’d passed out to the bathroom of the locker room, where I found myself now.

I was bound with duct tape. I was still in my sweats, sitting on top of the toilet-seat lid. Those factors, at least, were a small mercy. One, being in sweats, and two, on the lid of the toilet seat as opposed to the seat itself. After not knowing how you got there and being unable to move, it would be even more awkward to look down and see your sweat pants bunched at your ankles.

Not only does Brouwer have a suspenseful novel here but he touches on themes that occur in young lives. The book deals with Jace, who has been dealing with a cold and abusive household for a very long time. The situation is worsening and Jace decides to take matters into his own hands before his brother is hurt even more. The story is one of the The Retribution Series that young readers can continue to read on with.

Page 41-42

“Hey,” Bentley said.

“Hey,” I said. no point in any encouraging words, like, Yeah, Dad must be in a bad mood – he didn’t mean what he said.” First, it would have been laughable to call Winchester by any other name than Winchester. He wasn’t a dad. He was a biological father. Second, Bentley and I both knew that Winchester always meant what he said when he threw out barbed words. And third, we’d been through that conversation endlessly during our younger years, with Bentley crying and me raging, until we’d finally accepted that it wouldn’t change, and then we’d come to a more important understanding: we weren’t going to blame ourselves for Winchester’s treating us the way he did. And, no surprise, that made us tight as brothers.

The language Brouwer uses here is simple and frank, yet it still flows in a lyrical manner. He manages to clearly get inside the mind of a young person and understand how they think and feel. Then he took that understanding and created this book.

Page 85-86

Yeah, I was scared of gravity. But I kept whispering to myself, That all you got?

Halfway up the wall I realized I was winning the fight against my fear. The process just took determination and a willingness to believe that if you hung in there – ha! Nice pun, given the rope that dangled three stories down the side of the hospital in the dark night – you’d wind in the end.

I’d pull on the Jumar with my left hand, trusting that the mechanism would lock and hold. With my right had, I’d slide the other Jumar up as high as I could. Then I’d pull down on the right Jumar, locking it in place, and slide the left Jumar up.

The effort didn’t hurt my biceps or forearms. My boxing workouts had left me with plenty of strength. But alternating the weight of my body from my left hand to my right and back to my left was tearing at the broken and crusted blisters. Without the leather gloves, it would have been unbearable.

Unleashed Retribution by Sigmund Brouwer is a great book to engage young minds about the world around them. The language is simple and frank yet the story line flows along well. A great read.

Link to the website for the Retribution Trilogy

Link to Sigmund Brouwer’s website

A Look at the Wild | Review of “Carl Rungius: Painter of the Western Wilderness” by Jon Whyte & E.J. Hart (1985) Glenbow-Alberta Institute/Douglas & McIntyre

cover

I recently came across a collection of art books for sale. While I missed the Andy Warhol catalog that sold for $40 (online listings had it starting at $700) I purchased a copy of Carl Rungius: Painter of the Western Wilderness and was rewarded immensely on an intellectual and emotional level.

Page 1 Foreword by Robert Bateman

A wise man once said that when you come upon a masterpiece of art, you feel you are seeing it for the first time, and is should look as if it had been done without effort. The effortless look of a work by Carl Rungius conceals the experience and talent of a brilliant artist. Although most of his paintings deal with big game amid big mountain scenery, there have been many times when his fresh point of view or dynamic composition have given me the feeling that I am seeing the subject for the first time. In his chosen genre, his artistic accomplishments have never been surpassed. His knowledge of his subject matter was enormous. Rungius not only worked hard at understanding the anatomy and habits of the animals he painted, but he also loved his association with them. Although it may seem strange to some, his passion for hunting was an extension of that love.

While I had been exposed to Rungius’ work before, I never really considered his work in a collective manner. And there is much more to his life that his artwork. We learn about his early life, where is dissected stray cats in order to learn and understand the positioning of muscles and tendons. And while this may seem crude in many ways, it shows a level of understanding that Rungius had of biology to create his giant works. And that was one of many difficult undertakings he took to create his art.

Page 31 A Heart In The West

The keen eye of Rungius the draughtsman had difficulty determining the line in this landscape. Line dominated landforms in the familiar wooded hills and vales where he had grown up. Here was one line only, the horizon, which heat shimmers frayed and tattered. No line distinguished the way grey green sage interrupted the sallow, pale lustre of the shortgrass, nor the way hill turned from sunshine into brownish-purple shades. Here no perspective provided depth and distance. More than once he thought a hill was nearer than it was, but, after travelling all day, it appeared no closer than it had that morning.

The West’s wild space; its bold light, dusky hues of lavender in the sage, tints, of rose and rust in the rock and soil, deep dolomite purple in distant mountains; the skies’ clarity, pure cerulean against sharply distinguished cumulus clouds: these crescive awarenesses flooded in on him during the slow trip north – new hues, new colours, a palette he had never used before.

Scanned image from Page 97 "Polar Bear," 1918, oil on canvas, 152.4 cm X 190.5 cm, Collection Glenbow Museum"
Scanned image from Page 97 “Polar Bear,” 1918, oil on canvas, 152.4 cm X 190.5 cm, Collection Glenbow Museum”

But there is more to Rungius than his art work. Readers are given insight to his life and how – not matter at what age he was, – he was willing to try new things and be active. His perspective on the wilderness may have been unique but it has grown into what we think the wilderness is. And this book helped give insight into the person who gave us that view of the hinterland.

Page 144 Down to Business

In 1937 an official of the city of Berlin visited Carl in Banff and chattered on about improvements in the Nazi regime was making to his old haunts in Germany. Usually at ease entertaining guests from far-flung parts of the world, he found himself wanting to be rid of this man. Politics was a topic that rarely appealed to him and he had lost what little interest in it he ever had shortly after he arrived in the United States. At the first opportunity, Carl ushered his visitor out into the garden before tactfully bidding him good-bye. When they paused, the German said in a confidential tone, “Mr. Rungius, you are German-born, and the United States is but your adopted country. Why don’t you return to the Fatherland where you belong? Over there you would be welcomed and given many honours. We need people like you. Why, I am sure that Goering would give you permission to hunt on one of the Imperial preserves.”

Carl turned and swept his arm in an arc encompassing the Canadian Rockies surrounding them. “These are my hunting grounds,’ he declared. “I will come when your fuhrer can offer me better than these, an greater freedom!”

Scanned image from page 68. "Zero Weather," 1908, oil on canvas, 61 cm X81 cm, Collection Glenbow Museum
Scanned image from page 68. “Zero Weather,” 1908, oil on canvas, 61 cm X81 cm, Collection Glenbow Museum

Carl Rungius: Painter of the Western Wilderness by Jon Whyte & E.J. Hart proved to me to be a very profitable and enlightening read. Definitely an item I plan to look at over and over again!

Link to the Glenbow Museum

A Personal Look at Life and Oil | Review of “Long Change” by Don Gillmor (2015) Random House Canada

Long

There are many items in our modern lives that we just can’t do without. No doubt oil is one of those items that literary ‘drives’ our society. So it is no doubt that a literary look at the world of oil would be enlightening to us in many ways. Hence Don Gillmor’s book Long Change enlightens the lamps of our minds.

Page 24-25 Medicine Hat – July 1952

Lying on his bed in the Corona Hotel, sweating in the oppressive July heat, Ritt stared at the stained ceiling and examined his options. He had saved some money. That was the bright side. He was sixteen, and in his cowboy boots – the closest he’d found to the Justins that his  father had thrown onto the fire – he stood six foot four. He was filling out. He could fool a great deal of the world as to his age, though sometimes he felt like he was operating a giant machine that belonged to someone else. During the day, he could hold his aloneness at bay, but in those moments when sleep wouldn’t arrive, a quiet panic crept into him. His dismal room seemed to expand in four directions until there were miles of prairie on all sides and he lay on the small bed in the centre.

The sweat snaked down his chest even though he wasn’t moving a muscle.

He was coming to understand that oil was a living thing, it breathed and moved and gathered like a lynch mob, and to find it took a combination of science and voodoo. A geologist had come out to the rig to take core samples and while he was examining those cylinders of marbled rock, Ritt had asked what he saw there. Everything, the man said. You learn how to listen, rocks will tell you every damn thing. It occurred to Ritt that the oil game had two sides: on the surface there was unreliable machinery, drunken roughnecks and decent wages. But the real story was below.

Bobby would work the rigs forever. But Ritt decided he wanted to be one of the people who went down there and found that oil.

Geology is the story the earth tells itself, the geologist had said.

People tell stories.

The difference is, the earth can’t lie. Every story is true.

Gillmor brilliantly tells the story of oil production through the life of Ritt Devlin. We witness Ritt’s early life in Texas in the 1950s where he is first introduced to the oil industry. Then we see his “escape” to Alberta and his rise in field, first as a rigger then on to study geology and then starting his own company. Not only do we witness Ritt’s passion for the industry but his personal passions – his three loves of his life and there endings. There is a great mix of a personal drama and the history of an industry in this book.

Page 82-83

Oda had been sweating heavily in the night and was tired and her stomach hurt and she assumed this was all part of being pregnant. She was so ill on Christmas Day Ritt took her to the hospital, the emergency ward quiet, draped in red paper streamers and cut-out Santa heads. A few people huddled, nursing sprains and cuts and broken fingers.

“It might not be anything serious,” she said.

“It better not be.”

Both of them knew it was serious. They sat with their accumulating fear until a nurse led Oda away. Ritt waited where he was for a while, then got up and paced, the inquired at the desk, then paced some more. He was afraid to form any concrete thoughts. Oda finally emerged from the pale green door, her face drawn.

“They did some tests,” she said. “We’ll know in a week. Let’s go home.”

There are simple and direct descriptions here that make this book an interesting read. The plot flows through in a smooth manner which not only entertains but enlightens the reader about what life inside the oil industry is like. Gillmor has done a great deal of research and engaged a brilliant imagination to tell this story.

Page 182-183

Ritt left the restaurant, walking through the glum downtown. He stopped and noted the subtle swirls on the sandstone of the Knox United Church. Likely quarried from the Porcupine Hills formation. The distant footprints an overconfident Triceratops staggering through the last of the Creataceous, leaving an imprint in the silt and san that was distributed during the Laramide orogeny. Tectonic plates shuddering, the Rocky Mountains coming to life. Ritt looked closely at the stone. There was the illusion of uniformity but the individual grains actually varied in size and colour. Even stone failed to be monolithic  – it was a collection of individuals pressed into a society by forces they didn’t understand. Stone was equated with stability and it was stable, but only compared to other materials. Measured by geologic time, it was fickle and unreliable. There was rock that was easily fatigued and rock that was incompetent. It rose and fell and crumbled.

He thought, melodramatically, The city has turned against me. Though he knew this was simply ego. Who was the city for?

Long Change by Don Gillmor is an enlightening read into the oil industry. Well researched and brilliantly written, it is a book that is worth the time to read.

Link to Don Gillmor’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s page for Long Change

Answering the Questions of Desires | Review of “Breathing Lessons” by Andy Sinclair (2015) Véhicule Press

breathing

We are all slaves to our desires. But do we surrender to them, ignore them or even become embarrassed because of them? That is one of the major questions of the human condition. And any book that deals with that subject is certainly worth a read. Hence Andy Sinclair’s novel Breathing Lessons is a engaging read.

Page 11 – [Lesson One] How to Play the Victim

In the summers when I was a teenager we lifeguarded at the beach, which was a pocket of land cut out of the forest. The sand was trucked in. the lake water wasn’t polluted but it was smelly and brown from all the mulch. Nowadays people would call it organic. It was the kind of water that people from cities think is gross but if you poured it into a cedar-lined bathtub and lit a few pine-scented candles and advertised a Northern Waters Spa Experience, you could make a lot of money from those same people.

In the mornings the shadflies crunched underfoot as we swept them off the dock. Thursdays we came early for in-service training. We practised searching for lost kids, hauling unconscious people out of the water, splinting fractures. We did artificial respiration on each other, and there were no masks or resuscitation bags. If you played the victim, you had to let all your air out, and Becky, our boss, had to see your lungs expand when your rescuer breathed air back into you.

That was the summer a lifeguard in another town died when she got caught in a pool drain.

The story deals with Henry Moss. We witness all sorts of fumbles and failures as Henry tries to deal with his homosexuality. He tries hard to find a lasting and endearing partner but those he connects with are fleeting. As the book goes on, Henry ages and his desires change, but he is still lonely. Sinclair does an excellent job in describing those feelings and emotions for us to read.

Page 28-29 [Lesson Four] We’re Just Like Everybody Else

“After you have kids,” my mother says on the phone, by way of explanation for this thirty-two-year-old who has caused her hair to whiten prematurely and used up a good deal of my parents’ money in rehab and probably brought them a good fifteen years closer to death, “there comes a certain maturity.”

“Then, catching herself, “I didn’t mean -”

Me: “Never mind.”

My mother: ‘Oh, honey, your father and I just love you.”

I guess I would have had kids if I’d been straight., But I’m not, and I’m also not an assimilationist. Also, after rent, the car, and various fucking-around sundries there’s not much left over, certainly not enough to pay for diapers.

“But you do it together with someone,” Jeff says. Like who? I’ve only had one real relationship that lasted beyond a couple of weeks, and that one was with a manic-depressive. It only hung on because the prospect of leaving seemed so exhausting. Anyway, everyone used to say you couldn’t be gay and have a kid, because that was irresponsible and confusing and would fuck it up. It’s okay if you want to be that way but you shouldn’t be imposing that on someone else. Even my mother would have agreed with that, then. Now they’ve changed their minds, they think homos are so loving and gentle and nurturing. But I’d read some Thomas Kuhn in the interim, and I know they might take it all back. Besides, the gays had it right before, when they lived on the margins. Now it’s different – we’re just like everybody else! Except we’re really, really into cock. We’re not supposed to slut around on the internet or at the tubs, though. Or talk about it.

The language is frank and bold at times, but it reflects a reality many people exist in today. We get a clear sense of Henry’s thoughts and confusions and feel for him. We see the errors that he makes in judgement at times and realize that we ourselves have made similar errors in our own lives. The book is a brilliant read to reflect and ponder one’s own life upon no matter what preferences one has.

Page 101-102 [Lesson Fifteen] Everybody Gets Man Love Sometimes

Brian and I return with the steaks and beer. We had a bottle each in the car on the way over. It’s probably a dumb thing for a cop to do, but it’s a small-town force and Brian is popular with the other officers. He’d probably wink his way out of it if we ever got pulled over. He’d ask them if they wanted to go fishing next week.

We got up to a lot of shit together after we’d first met – firecrackers in mailboxes, naked cliff-diving, four-hour drives to Sudbury to go drinking and dancing. We’d drop acid and go bowling, watching in awe as the ball oozed its way towards the pins. It was the beginning of the end of my swimming days but I didn’t care. I had man love for him because he was such a hooligan but there was another kind of love there, too. One that I didn’t want to think about. Brian fucked a lot of girls and when I told him I was gay he was more than supportive. I was seventeen and terrified. It wasn’t a big city. It was the rural north and this was before it was an in-joke on every other sitcom.

“You’re my best friend,” he said, and he hugged me. that was more comfort than I had ever felt. He told me nobody would bug me as long as he was around. The danger was real then. You wouldn’t get lynched or anything, but they’d beat you up if they found you behind the arena. Still, I maybe should have gone it alone.

Breathing Lessons by Andy Sinclair is not a easy or a light read. But it is a worthwhile one. It looks at the concept of desire and how it is acted upon, giving insight to the human condition. A great book.

Link to Véhicule Press page for Breathing Lessons

A Rare Gift of Lyricism | Review of “The Lady Matador’s Hotel” by Cristina García (2010) Scribner

Lady

It is rare for me to find a writer who knows how to cause a story to flow with ease. A month ago I discovered a work quite by accident by Cristina García (Link to my review of “Dreams of Significant Girls”) and my exploration cause me to look at other items that she has written. I came across The Lady Matador’s Hotel and was thoroughly impressed once again.

Page 4

Suki Palacios has come a long way to this spired hotel in the tropics, to this wedge of forgotten land between continents, to this place of hurricanes and violence and calculated erasures. She arrived yesterday from Los Angeles, trading the moody squalor of one city for another, the broken Spanish for one more lyrical. In a week she will compete in the first Battle of the Lady Matadors in the Americas. Suki is here early to display her skills and generate enthusiasm for the fight. By the time the other matadoras arrive in the capital, its citizens will be clamoring for blood.

Every window of the hotel looks inward to a crosshatch of courtyards and fountains, banyans and Madeira palms. The pool is visible beneath Suki’s window, a glazed and artificial blue. A cascade of bougainvillea brightens the patio. Aviaries with raucous jungle parrots outmatch the mariachis in volume and plumage. The lady matador is tempted to submit to the hotel’s shielding niceties, to ignore the afternoon torpor awaiting her in the ring. She’s grown accustomed to the jeering spectators who come to spit at her and provoke the bulls. They would gladly banish her from the sport altogether – interloper, scandalous woman playing at being a man.

García has the ability to be both lyrical and frank in her writing. The story deals with a group of people whose lives have intersected at a luxury hotel in an unnamed Central-American city. Readers get deeply inside the thoughts of each of the six characters (three men and three women) and experience their fears, their desires and even their cruel indifference. This is a great book that not only looks at life in Central America, but at the human condition in general.

Page 52-53

The lawyer doesn’t feel her usual sens of triumph after a morning’s testimony before Congress. Los Mohosos – the moldy ones, her catchall name for her political adversaries – are lobbying to abolish private adoptions and put the government in charge. A politician on Gertrudis’s payroll had the audacity to condemn foreign adoptions, citing that Korea had stopped exporting its babies. “It’s imperative that we follow suit,” Senator Silvestre Jimenez demanded. “Are we any less of a culture?”

His tirade wasn’t about saving children but about making money – and boosting his sagging popularity with a distracting new cause. He and the other politicians want a bigger cut of the lucrative adoption business under the guise of more regulation. They couldn’t be more transparent. The lawyers, equally transparent and let by Gertrudis, are fighting to preserve the profits. As far a she’s concerned, there’s no downside to sending a fraction of the country’s underprivileged children overseas. Nothing awaits them here but misery.

After her testimony, lobbyists of every persuasion surrounded Gertrudis, vying for her attention in competing clouds of brilliantine. She estimates that her payroll will swell considerably by week’s end. There is nothing read about realpolitik here. Everything masquerades as something else.

While this book may be a slim volume, it is complex. While spanning a week, we witness a multitudes of scenes and emotions that are descriptive and intense. García has brilliantly compartmentalized each section of the book into having a single character deal with their thoughts and actions alone. The characters may be sensitive people but situations beyond their control have made them into hard and difficult people with strong emotions.

Page 88-89

A bellboy delivers a telegram to Won Kim at the bar. He tips the boy and carefully opens the envelope. The message is from his mother, pleading with him (again) to return home to Seoul and bury her like a proper son. I cannot die in peace with you so far away. Won Kim folds the telegram, his face burning with shame.

“I want your biggest steak!” he shouts to the bartender.

Other customer turn to look at him but Won Kim no longer cares what anyone thinks. Let them speculate about his transgressions. Let them revel in his sins. Let them strip him bare and see him for who he is. At the bar, Won Kim recognizes the barrel-chested colonel but cannot remember his name.

The television drones on behind the mahogany bar and Won Kim tries to distract himself with the weather report. A hurricane, apparently, is churning its way toward their shores. If only he could be swept away by its purging winds. How he would relish tumbling through the air with the pelicans and dusky fish, their gills opened and red as new wounds. Just as a report begin on the lady matador, the same colonel orders the TV turned off.

Won Kim cuts his rare steak. It is juicy and delicious, better than the chicken, but he cannot force himself to eat more than one bite. His stomach flip-flops and the burning in his lungs spikes down to his knees. He smokes another cigarette to settle his nerves. Then he pays for his food with two twenty-dollar bills and heads upstairs to his mistress.

The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina García is a great exploration of the human condition. It is well-crafted, lyrical and emotional. A very impressive book and – no doubt –  I will be looking at other works by this writer soon.

Link to Cristina García’s webpage

Link to Simon & Schuster Canada’s page for The Lady Matador’s Hotel

The Muddle that is Our Lives | Review of “The Rise & Fall of Great Powers” by Tom Rachman (2014) Doubleday Canada

Rise

We all consider our lives at one time or another. We think about the highlights and the lows. Then we turn to the future and hope for profound and exciting elements to push us through the future years. But is that how life really is? Do we really expect great things to happen to us when events in reality around us guide our lives forward? That is the conundrum I was thinking about after reading Tom Rachman’s The Rise & Fall of Great Powers.

Page 33-34 2011: The Beginning

The sunlight shifted and mottled the land. She paused under its rays, closed her eyes, absorbing the warmth. when the sun shone – and days passed without a glimpse of it – she hurried beneath. but it was rain that exhilarated her, watching through the bookshop window, the world hushing, sidewalks vacant. It wasn’t feeble drips that thrilled her but torrents – when raindrops exploded off leaves, choked drainpipes, drummed the attic roof at World’s End. Once, a thunderclap sounded in the afternoon and Fogg gasped, though he masked it noisily turning the page of a book on Mongol hordes.

“Storm are beautiful,” she’d said.

“Storms are wet.”

“Come on, you softie. When nature does something strong, dramatic like that, it’s exciting. Don’t you think?”

“Would you consider an earthquake excitng?”

“Well, if you could just watch it – imagine – if no one got hurt and nothing of value was destroyed, then yes, it’d be incredible. Like when you see pictures of molten lava.”

“Nothing nice about molten lava when it’s shooting at you.”

“It never has shot at me.”

“Not me, to be brutally honest.”

From behind her closed eyelids, she perceived a darkening. The sunlight had migrated along the moorland. A speck of rain hit her cheek. The drizzle fell noiselessly, the wind shouldering thin raindrops into diagonals that darted one way then another, like shoals of fish in a nervous mass. She watched wet dots multiply on her blouse, the cotton clung to her small breasts and belly. Back in her twenties, she had considered her body parts irrelevant to the whole of herself, as if she lived in a container unrelated to the contained. When she caught sight of herself today, thinner than once, she thought less of shape than of time, which had arrived, its incursions marked by the coarsening of her. She gazed at her rubber boots on wet stalks of grass, vision blurred by beads of rain that hung from her eyebrows,shivering at each step.

Rachman shows the muddle that has been the protagonist Tooly Zylberberg’s life. He starts the story off in Wales in 2011, then jumps back to Manhattan in 1999, then je jumps over to a long-distance flight from Australia to Bangkok in 1988 and so on. Through that journey we see Tooly in different stages of her life. Each snippet gives us glimpse of people who were important to her: Paul, Humphrey, Duncan, Venn, Fogg and so forth. But there something unsettling in Tooly’s life that a reader can’t quite put their finger on therefore must read forward to find out what exactly the problem is. And in doing so, the reader will perhaps consider their own lives a bit deeper.

Page 75-76 – 1999

As Tooly grew older, she witnessed other shortcuts: how one might vacation for nothing by befriending a shy local of the opposite sex, earning free room and board, even a tour guide for a few days. Another game involved posting reward signs for a lost key inside a tourist-jammed train station. She put on a hiker’s backpack (stuffed with Humphrey’s laundry) and sought out the smokers – always easiest to  start a conversation with. Any mean-faced jerk was her preference, the more unpleasant the better. She borrowed his lighter, sparked a cigarette, and complained that she had to fly home early because her grandma had fallen ill in Florida. While stepping away to the vending machines, she entrusted her backpack to the guy, then returned with a look of astonishment and something in her palm: Hey, is this that key on the reward posters? At a phone booth, they called the posted number. Frantic with excitement, the key’s owner promised to drive over immediately with the generous cash reward: he’d arrive in an hour. Alas, Tooly couldn’t wait – she had her flight to catch. However, the man on the phone (Venn) demanded that she wait. Appearing befuddled, she trust the phone at her new acquaintance. Venn told him that this girl had just agreed on five hundred dollars for the key – giver her the money now and I’ll refund you as soon as I arrive. Hell, I’ll quadruple it, if you stay put: two thousand in cash, plus, the five hundred you gave the girl. Her unpleasant new companion sprinted to the closest ATM (Tooly helpfully pointing it out), and withdrew as close to five hundred dollars as possible. She gave him the key and hastened to the cab stand – no time for the airport train now! When after an hour or two, the guy was still waiting, he irritably tried the number on the reward posters. It rang and rang.

This isn’t an easy book to read. The plot jumps and skips at times. But once the reader completes the task of getting to the end of the book, the whole story makes sense. It is enlightening to make one’s way through the narrative that is Tooly’s life and Rachman’s descriptions at times are vivid and emotional.

Page 313 – 1988

Tooly knelt on a chair at the sink and turned on the taps., organizing dirty plates and cutlery. Steam rose and sweat trickled down her brow as she gazed into the swirling dishwater. Briefly, the name of this city was lost to her. What was outside this house? She dropped a knife into the water, its surface sliced with a plop, tossing up a grape of liquid that peaked, flopped back within itself, the suds sliding closed. How strange, she thought, that there were people doing other things right at this moment in different places. Everyone she’d ever known was alive somewhere, thinking different things.

“Can I have coffee again today?” she asked Humphrey when he entered. In her early days here, Coca-Cola had been her morning refreshment, but she had copied him lately, drinking instant coffee with cream and lots of sugar, establishing a way of taking it that was uniquely hers. Nothing felt quite so grown-up as having way particular to oneself.

Tom Rachman’s The Rise & Fall of Great Powers.may be a disjointed read at times but it is a worthwhile one. It’s ambiguities and questions helps a reader ponder there one life in ways unimaginable. Truly a  great book.

Link to Tom Rachman’s website

Link to Doubleday Canada’s page for The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

Reflecting the Realities of a Young Reader | Review of “Dreams of Significant Girls” by Cristina García (2011) Simon & Schuster

Girls

Being a avid reader, I am often told by parents they have a hard time getting their teenagers to read. In many cases, the teenagers themselves state the books they are given to read don’t reflect their lives or have agendas in trying to form opinions and attitudes instead of trying to relate to them. While researching another project, I came across a book that I think should better fit the wants of young readers. Hence my mention here of  Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina García.

Page 2-3 Vivien Wahl

Things didn’t go as well for my parents. Papi worked all the the time. He traveled to Africa to buy diamonds for his new import business. We hardly ever saw him. This made my mother very lonely. Whenever I wanted to hang out with friends after school, she made me feel so guilty that half the time I didn’t go. Late at night, I’d hear my parents arguing. Mom cried and accused Dad of abandoning her. She suspected that he was having an affair. He countered that maybe he didn’t want to come home to a depressed wife every night. So off I went to “safe Switzerland so they could sort things out.

I’d never been on a flight by myself before, much less one where you got to choose what you wanted to eat from a menu. I ordered everything that came with cream sauce and a crème brûlée for dessert. Then I settled in to read my volume of J. D. Salinger stories. I brought ten books with me, all fiction. The Swiss camp promised that I’d be exceedingly busy: three hours of French class in the morning, sports and activities in the afternoon (I chose horseback riding, water skiing, cooking and ceramics), with nightly activities on top of that. I packed a flashlight in case my only time to read was under the bedcovers. In third grade, I got glasses from reading in the dark. Every time my mother looked at me with my thick tortoiseshell glasses, she’d sigh, as if I’d been permanently disfigured.

García uses simple and frank language in this book, which appeals to younger readers. The story deals with three girls: Sharin, Ingrid and Vivien. All three are sent to a private summer camp in Switzerland where they become acquainted. The story is broken apart by giving each of the three a chance to narrate the story, giving a unique perspective to a situation through each of the girl’s eyes.

Page 12-13 Ingrid Baum

We couldn’t wait to get out of Canada – away from our town, away from our smothering German mother, and frankly, away from my bad reputation. Our town was like a fish bowl. When you weren’t swimming around inside it, fins ablaze and blowing bubbles, you were on the outside looking in, watching everyone else and making snide remarks. so when my little sister, Kathe, and I finally got on the plane in Toronto, I whooped and hollered so loud, the stewardess cam over and read me the riot act. I got lots of dirty looks from the other passengers too. Apparently, airplanes were a lot more like small towns than we knew.

The first thing I did after the plane hit top altitude was whip out my fake ID and order a double scotch. I looked a lot older than fifteen. When I was dressed up and wearing makeup, grown men hit on me all the time. My sister was thirteen but looked about ten. She’d deny it, of course, but there was no way she could’ve ordered a double scotch and gotten away with it. So I pours some of mine into her Coke when nobody was looking ans we both settled in to watch the movie.

García also has the characters deal with issues that many of today’s teens have difficulties dealing with. Desires, heritage, mental health, parental irresponsibility, and so forth and covered by each of the girls in detail. Showing each of the girls with their problems gives insight to any reader what a young person has to deal with in modern society and the possible solutions.

Page 110 Shirin Firouz

Not that Jan-Peter was conventionally handsome. He was tall and bony and his front teeth overlapped in a funny way. But his eyes, a soft gray, anchored everything into place. I was surprised by the sudden ferocity of my feelings for him. I had assumed that I was immune to the vicissitudes of romantic love, especially after with that degenerate last year. When my cousins in Tehran spoke of their exuberant admiration for this boy or that, I thought them fools.

That summer, I became the fool.

Ingrid was irritable for days, accusing Vivien and me of abandoning our friendship in the “tawdry pursuit of the opposite sex.” While she freely advised everyone else on how to handle boys, Ingrid was mum on the subject when it came to us. She would light a cigarette, blow smoke out the window, and haughtily pronounce: “You’ll just have to find out for yourselves, won’t you?”

Her attitude, in my opinion, was unwarranted. Vivien and I discussed it at length but we could not decide whether Ingrid was jealous (unlikely, since she could have had her pick of boys), concerned (also possible, given our inexperience), or hormonally imbalanced (this was Viven’s theory but I found it sexist and refused to subscribe to it).

One thing we could both agree on: It was decidedly unpleasant.

Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina García is a interesting read that should appeal to younger readers. It deals with modern issues in a frank and open manner through it’s narrative that makes it an enlightening read.

Link to Cristina García’s website

Link to Simon & Schuster’s page for Dreams of Significant Girls

The Dangerous Allure of Happiness |Review of “Happiness™” by Will Ferguson (2002) Penguin Books

Happiness

I have been suffering from a malaise in my reading lately which is why I haven’t posted much on here recently. I first attributed that feeling to the warm summer months and a busy work schedule but then as I pulled out Will Ferguson’s Happiness™ from my ever growing pile of must-reads that looms on my night table, I realized that I am not alone in my cynicism of the saccharin that is plaguing culture this days. In short, I found a new hero in the protagonist Edwin de Valu.

Page 4

Edwin is a thin, officious young man with a tall, scarecrow walk and dry straw hair that refuses to hold a part. Even when dressed in a designer overcoat and polished turtle-cut Dicanni shoes, Edwin de Valu has a singular lack of presence. A lack of substance. He is a lightweight, in every sense of the word, and the morning’s commute almost sweeps him under. In the urban Darwinism of rush hour, Edwin has to fight just to keep afloat, has to strain just to keep his head about the deluge. No one – least of all Edwin himself – could ever have suspected that the entire fate of the Western World would soon rest upon his narrow shoulders.

Edwin is a very bitter individual who works at a major publishing firm. He is over worked, underpaid, perpetually drinking and smoking and has deadlines set for him that are unreasonable. One day a self-help manuscript lands on his desk in which promises to help readers lose weight, stop smoking, have great sex and find inner peace. Edwin dismisses the book to be hogwash, but in order to make one of those unreasonable deadlines set against him, he allows it out to be published. But instead of What I learned on the Mountain becoming a sad, unknown little failure, it becomes hugely popular, sending Edwin in a tailspin of ugly and unwanted successes.

Page 149-150

“Seriously, May. I’m not kidding. I have a bad feeling about this. We didn’t spend any money on promoting What I Learned on the Mountain. Not a penny. We didn’t send out a single review copy, and in turn we didn’t get a single book review. And yet, within weeks, it just took off. How do you explain that, May?”

“Edwin, you know as well as I do that the greatest sales tool we have is word of mouth. It sells more books than anything else. You can have the biggest, slickest marketing plan available, but poor word of mouth will still kill the best-laid plans of mice and publishers. That what happened here, only the other way around. It’s like The Celestine Prophecy. Remember that? the author couldn’t find a publisher for love nor money, so he ended up publishing it himself, hawking it out of the trunk of his car, going from bookstore to bookstore -”

“And that took years, May. Years of persistence. What happened with What I Learned on the Mountain took only a matter of weeks. And no one was driving around with copies of it in the trunk of his car. This was purely word of mouth. And you know what? Paul down in marketing did a reader survey when sales first started to soar, trying to figure out what was going on – you know how reactive marketing is; always trying to catch up to the latest trend and then take credit for it. Well anyway, Paul tested reader satisfaction with What I Learned on the Mountain, and do you what he came up with? One hundred percent satisfaction. That’s right, 100 percent, May.”

***

“So what, Edwin? so people are happy with the book. I don’t know why that bothers you so much. What is the worst that could possibly happen? People feel good about themselves. They feel happy. Where’s the harm?”

“That, I don’t know,” said Edwin. “But I tell you, it just isn’t right. It isn’t normal.”

While Edwin may be a deeply cynical and mixed up individual (and has a serious abusive streak to his wife’s cat Mr. Muggins), Ferguson has developed a character that teaches us that it is necessary to be cynical to what trends exist in our society. Edwin is a bitter fool, but he is right in his thoughts and ways to the world around him. And the world would be a very canned and boring place if it wasn’t for heroes like Edwin.

Page 188

It turns out Edwin was a gambling man after all. He just wasn’t a very astute gambling man. Evidence of this lay in the way he pinned his every hop on what the people in marketing were saying. Indeed, he was betting his very life on the wisdom emanating from marketing, which only underlines just how desperate he had become. (In terms of reliability, marketing is only slightly above the study of chicken entrails. ) Edwin had one week to live, unless he could convince Mr. Mead to pull the book. Which he couldn’t. It was too late for that. Panderic had already licensed more than a dozen spinoff titles and copycat projects. (Mr. Soiree, oddly enough, showed a distinct and to Edwin’s mind suspicious, lack of interest in writing any more of the books himself. “Oh, goodness no. Let the radiant words of other journey-questers fill the great vision. Let other authors carry the crusade forward. I’ll still be getting 15 percent on sales, right? And that’s list price gross revenue, correct?”)

Will Ferguson may have made his protagonist in Happiness™ a cynical and bitter fool but there is are real-life lessons to be gained from Edwin de Valu. Questioning not only the daily trends and fashion of our day but our lives in general is a thing worthwhile at times. Therefore Happiness™ is not just a good novel but a great piece of literature.

Link to Will Ferguson’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s page for Happiness™