Torontoc's Books Read in 2015
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1. Dvorak in Love by Joseph Skvorecky I picked this novel from my very big TBR pile and just finished it today. The story centers on Dvorak's time in the United States when he had a post as the Director of the National Conservatory in New York City. Each chapter is narrated by a different person- so the reader learns about his family and how he married his wife, Anna, as well as the histories of the many people that Dvorak met and worked with in America. In fact at one point in the novel, there seemed to be too many characters to follow as Skvorecky writes about Dvorak's many musical friends and his appreciation and later use of Black music. The many stories that make up the narrative give the reader an appreciation of the many influences that Dvorak used in his music as well as the people who were influenced by him in their musical careers in the United States as well as in Europe. In this biographical novel I made the acquaintance of some formidable women who figured in this development of music- Jeannette Thurber, a patron who used her husband's money to set up both the Conservatory and an earlier opera company and Adele Margulies - a pianist who bridged the gaps between classical and popular music. And there are the many stories of unrequited love from Dvorak's first infatuation with his wife Anna's sister Josephine to Otylia, Dvorak's daughter who had to choose between the Old and New World. The book ended and I felt a little sad in leaving all the remarkable characters in the story. A very good read to start the New year.
2. The Hockey Sweater Anniversary Edition by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen and translated from the French by Sheila Fischman. This beautiful book came with the DVD of the National Film Board of Canada of the animated film. Both book and film are not very long but they evoke memories of the days when the Montreal Canadiens were the best hockey team in the 6 city league. Carrier uses a childhood memory to create the long gone world of a small town in Quebec in the late 1940's. Carrier said that the most important things were the Church and the skating rink, and the idolization of the great Maurice Richard who played for the Canadiens. Every boy knew all about the statistics and listened to the hockey games broadcast on the radio. At the skating rink, every boy wore the jersey of the Montreal Canadiens. The story shows what happens when Roch as a growing boy needs a new hockey jersey. His mother orders a new one from the Eaton's mail order catalogue. ( Eaton's-a long gone Canadian department store empire with stores and a famous catalogue) Unfortunately, the wrong jersey arrives- that of the hated Toronto Maple Leaf team. Roch is forced to wear it and suffers the consequences. That is the story- the settings and dialogue were illustrated by Sheldon Cohen for the book as well as the short animated film. This book has more- information on the history of making the film, the references and tributes by many prominent Canadian politicians ( including the present Prime Minister) writers, sports figures and a former goalie and member of parliament- Ken Dryden. This book was also taken by a Canadian astronaut to the International Space Station. This edition is more than one for children- it is an exploration of a past life in Canada.
3. An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine I read this book because of Chatterbox's review on her blog. What a beautiful book- I loved the character of Aaliya, a seventy two year old " unnecessary woman" divorced and living alone. She used to run a bookstore but has been spending her time reading and translating selected authors into Arabic. Aaliya tells stories about her life, her friend Hannah and her life in Beirut during many wars. The language from her own ( or the author's great turn of phrase) thoughts and those of her favourite authors serve as a tribute to book lovers and reading. Aaliya is a solitary person but she learns about friendship and change. A wonderful read!
Maybe I should try read the story in French. That would really make me feel patriotic. :)
(A bit of a scary thought, though. My French was never all that good, and it's gotten super rusty.)
LShelby- the story is brief but really captures the time and place of rural Quebec and the Montreal Canadien hockey team worship.
8. The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. I had to buy a book for a five year old and this one was recommended by a lady in a bookstore. This particular five year old is into princesses and loves the film Frozen. She has abandoned her obsession with Dora the Explorer. I read this story and think that it is perfect for her. Both authors want this story to be the first in a series of adventures for this princess - a girl who is also a heroine as she saves the goats from a very bad monster. She disguises herself in black clothes so no one knows who she really is.( almost like Zorro). The story is not frightening for a young child and begins to provide a role of a girl who takes charge. I think that authors are looking at changing the stereotype of the girl who needs protection.
Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel. I try to follow all of this author's works- her themes are very interesting. I read this book a few years ago and had to refresh my memory for my book club meeting next week. Maya is the child of Holocaust survivors as are her close friends Rosie, Tony and Patrick. The lives of the children are definitely impacted by the histories of their parents. I liked the book when I first read it and the reread reemphasized the trials of the parents.
16. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery ( touch stones are not working this afternoon) I had never read this Canadian classic story before. Early Reviewers gave me a chance to do so. I must admit that I loved the story and the amazing character of Anne. The author created a lovely very talkative young girl who loves her imagination, nature and every new experience. A modern jaded reader might not appreciated the wonder of seemingly everyday events like concerts and exhibitions. But the world of Anne Shirley- young orphan in pre-World War 1 Prince Edward Island - was very grim before she was taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. The author traces Anne's growth from bold and talkative little girl to mature young lady who makes wise decisions. The story is dated but in a nice way. The world of this small rural town no longer exists but this novel is a remarkable tribute to the lives of those who lived in Canada at the beginning of the 20th century.
17. The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. I finally finished this novel last night. I had started it two years ago and put it down after finishing the first half of the story. I found the pace and writing style " slow". Last year I picked up the book again for one reason. A member of my book club said that she found the novel difficult for read because it was similar to the story of her in-laws and how they survived in Hungary during World War Two. This statement made me curious and I resolved to finish the book. The story follows the history of a young Hungarian Jewish man, Andras Levi and his life as he studies for his architecture degree in Paris in 1937. He struggles with balancing work and studies and meets with Klara Morgenstern, a young woman with secrets of her own relationships. Andras, his friends' and brothers' lives are related in great detail in the first half of the book. The complicated story of Klara and her family and why she is in Paris make this first part of the story more of a saga that moves very slowly. The second half of the novel takes place mainly in Budapest. Andras has to leave Paris because of the political situation. He and Klara marry and take up residence in Hungary where the war in Europe changes lives for Hungarian Jews. Orringer writes about the labour groups that Jews have to join- these companies are to support the Hungarian Army. The details of the work , anti-Semitism, and survival take the reader through the changing politics of Hungary as an ally of Germany and later a puppet state controlled by the Nazis. The writing seems more authentic as the author describes the horrors of the work and conditions of the labor camps. I found the ending touching as the fate of Andras's family and friends is revealed. In fact, I am glad that I did return to this novel.
21.A Dangerous Inheritance- A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir. I like Alison Weir's biographies of the Tudors but until now was not as happy with her historical fiction. But this story was really interesting. Weir has taken two women who might have know something about crucial events in British royal history- the murder of the two princes in the Tower of London by Richard the Third and the succession plots during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth- and given them plausible biographies. Katherine Plantagenet was the illegitimate daughter of Richard the Third. She was married to William Herbert and probably died in childbirth. Katherine Grey was the sister of Lady Jane Grey and married secretly against the wishes of Queen Elizabeth. Katherine Grey was imprisoned for most of her life as a result of this action. Weir had given both women lives that place them at points of known history. She has made them both curious about the fate of the princes in the Tower of London and gave them actions that add more detail to what is generally know today. The fictional detail that could be true make this story interesting to me.
22.Gossip from the Forest by Thomas Keneally I liked this fictional story about what may have happened during the talks that led up to the armistice and the end of World War One. The structure of the book uses very short chapters to imagine the conversations between the German, French and English negotiators as they met in a railway car outside of Compiegne.. The story of one of the German negotiators was particularly poignant as the reader learns of his fate after the war. In a way the writing style is somewhat " impressionist"- Keneally alternates between the dialogue between the French and English and the Germans. I liked this story and found it informative in learning about the circumstances surrounding the negotiations to end the war.
Flavia solves the mystery of three murders and learns a little more about her dead mother. I like the way the author not only presents the details of a complicated murder case but also introduces the reader to a slice of 1950's British life. In this case, the gypsy caravan and some obscure religious sects. The estate where Flavia lives, Buckshaw, plays a central role in this mystery.
44. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins I like to read books that seem to be really popular. I guess that I am curious to see "why"? This is a little like Gone Girl- a lot of suspense,and unlikeable characters. The entries or narratives by Rachel, Megan and Anna show people who have a lot of troubles and make bad decisions. There is suspense and I am glad that I read the book but it is not one of my favourites.
47. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. This is a very accomplished piece of writing. The story of Tooly Zylberberg is told in three time periods- 1988, 1999 and 2011. In a way the reader is looking not at Tooly's future but at deciphering her past. Tooly in the present owns a bookstore in an isolated part of Wales. She is called to New York as her father, Humphey is dying. However , Humphrey is not her real father although they travelled throughout the world when she was growing up. Tooly was raised by tricksters and a trio of mysterious characters. In each time period the reader wonders how she became the wanderer. Tooly believes that her childhood was an adventure although as the reader finds ( spoiler) out that Tooly's assumptions about her life are false. Great characters and comments about society of the beginning of the 21st century. I did find the " reveal" a little disappointing.
A really good story!
This is my 75th book of the year!
86. Four Queens The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone. I really liked good history books- especially about times and people that I really don't know much about- and this biography worked for me. The author relates the stories of four sisters, Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice from Provence during the 1200's who became queens in England, France, Germany and Sicily. They all were married well because of the plans of their parents, Beatrice of Savoy and Raymond Berenger V , the count and countess of Provence. Goldstone gives the reader a good sense of the politics and events in Europe during this time. The two elder sisters, Marguerite of France and Eleanor of England were much more involved in the management of events in their countries. One important factor was the close family ties of those in power from Provence and Savoy. How they influenced power in England and France was fascinating. A really good read.
97. Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson. I like to see what children's book authors are doing. ( an interest in seeing what my young great nieces will be reading) This graphic novel is well designed and has some interesting characteristics. The young girl , Hilda is fearless, takes a leadership role and solve problems with trolls and other creatures. ( I like the woodman) There is a mother ( nice to see that a parent is present ) and she is trusting and cheerful. This story is a nice change from old stereotypes of the past.
99. Winnie The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker and illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss. This book has a nice combination of illustration and print for a young reader. ( the book is a gift for my young great niece) The author describes how a veterinarian who had joined the Canadian army in World War 1 bought a young bear in Northern Ontario, named him Winnie ( after the city of Winnipeg) and took him overseas to England. When the soldier had to go to battle in France, he left Winnie in the care of the London Zoo.When the war was over, the veterinarian realized that Winnie should remain at the zoo. And this is where an author and his son found the bear and named him "Winnie-the -Pooh". A lovely book to start a young reader with before going to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
100. Step Aside, Pops a Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton. Kate Beaton's comics are wonderful. This second collection includes a number of her favourite targets. Fairy tales, comic book heroines, the US founding Fathers and of course Jane Austen vs the Brontes are all put in unlikely and funny situations. Cinderella works out with the Prince, Lois Lane is bugged by both Superman and Clark Kent, and Julius Caesar is reminded to wear pyjamas to the Senate. Chopin and Liszt are rivals in everything. Avenging Feminists and women bicycle riders are both given a prominent place in this collection of funny and acute observations on literature and politics.
The Big Short- it really explains some of the financial corruption regarding mortgages ( I know- is this a topic for a film?) a few years ago in the US.
107. Behind the Beautiful Forevers Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo The journalist/ author writes about the lives of a group of people living in a slum just near the airport in Mumbai. Boo details the lives of a number of families involved in processing garbage for resale, and the incredible ( to my eyes) corruption in the political and municipal systems in India. One family is targeted by another and there is a murder charge and subsequent trial. There are a number of unsolved murders and suicides as well. The details of life in this slum are horrifying. The wholesale mismanagement of funds for development so that too much money lands in the hands of politicians and developers is astounding. A very thoughtful study of the underclass in India society and their struggles.
110. The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville Grenville writes a beautiful story about a young lieutenant assigned to record a comet in Australia in 1788. He is assigned, as an astronomer to a company that is setting a colony in an isolated part of this new territory with a group of convicts. Daniel Rookie manages to convince his superior officer that he needs to live on a high spot overlooking the settlement so that he can record the stars. He finds that the native people visit and in particular , one young girl befriend him. He starts to learn their language. The treatment of the native people lead Daniel to realize that the values of the conquering the British army are not his. A very sensitive view of how the British settled in Australia.