All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot SeeBook Review

Title: All The Light We Cannot See
Author:  Anthony Doerr
Imprint: Scribner
Published: 2014
Pages: 544
ISBN: 978-1-5011-0456-5
Stars:  4.0

I am not usually drawn to novels set during World War II.  Maybe it’s because I am half German, and have no desire whatsoever to read anything about Hitler, particularly now that we are living in a political climate fuelled by a buffoon dictator just south of the border, in 2017. I do, however, love stories set in Paris, which is why I decided to give this book a try, although it was also enthusiastically recommended to me by my good friend Deborah Ledon who did not steer me wrong with her last recommendation.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2014 novel, is a work of art in more ways than one.  Each short chapter is like a photograph come to life, filled with colour, texture, and light, revealing one image, a small piece of the story. Doerr’s prose is so beautiful that we cannot put the book down for wanting to experience, with all of our senses, that next piece of the story. And all of our senses are heightened as we do.

The book begins on 7 August 1944 as Germany is bombing France, or more specifically, Saint-Malo, France, as a 16-year-old blind girl named Marie-Laure LeBlanc kneels over a table at Number 4 rue Vauborel, holding a model of the city in miniature. She knows every centimetre of the model by touch and has memorized its street names. She can hear the bombers, who are three miles away, approaching Saint-Malo.

“Five streets to the north, a white-haired 18-year-old German private named Werner Pfennig wakes to a faint staccato hum.” He is in the Hotel of Bees, a once cheerful address where Parisians would stay on weekend holidays. Werner is in the building when bombers brandishing high-velocity anti-air guns known as 88s start to destroy everything in the vicinity of the hotel. What, we wonder, could possibly happen next?

Compelled to turn the pages of each short chapter, we study them as if they are photographs on exhibition in an art gallery. As we move through each chapter in the first 90 pages of the book, a ten-year history of these two main characters is revealed in snapshot after snapshot.

We learn about the curse of an ancient blue diamond containing a touch of red at its center, known as the Sea of Flames. The 133 carat diamond has been locked up in a cleverly disguised vault in the basement of the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris where Marie-Laure’s father works as the principal locksmith.

We also learn that Werner was raised with his sister Jutta, in a Children’s Home in Zollverein, a coal-mining complex near Essen, Germany by a kind woman named Frau Elena, and that young Werner, who has a love of science, also possesses a knack for repairing radios, which may just save him from having to work in the coal mines like all of the other 15-year-old boys in the region.

Sergeant Major Reinhold Von Rumpel, a gemologist before the war, now works for the Reich. It is his mission to find the Sea of Flames for the Führer for his proposed empyrean city in Linz, Austria, at the center of which he plans to build a kilometre-long museum filled with the greatest treasures in all of Europe and Russia.

The author flips us back and forth between what is happening to Marie-Laure and what is happening to Werner from 1934 to 1944, his exquisite writing moving with the pace of a suspense thriller. And then he starts to weave in the story of Von Rumpel and we slowly discover how all three characters’ lives will intersect.

Werner’s story is particularly heart-wrenching as he is recruited by the Reich – who force 14-year-old boys to train for their Machiavellian purposes – always weeding out the weakest, with unbelievable cruelty, while staying focused on building their superior Aryan race. Werner is small, sensitive and very smart and he dreams of becoming an engineer. He tries with all his strength to hold onto those dreams as the grim realization of his situation becomes evident and he slowly understands just how evil the force that he has had to follow and support really is.

By the time I read half of this novel, my guts were gripped by the horror of how vicious human beings can be and I cried as I was reminded that although we earthlings have endured two World Wars, so many of us don’t seem to have learned anything from them as the current political state of affairs in much of the world can attest to.

However, it is the indestructible optimism and resilience of the spiritually strong, like Marie-Laure,  who give us hope that things can change for the positive in the future. When one’s will to live is as strong as hers, there may be no limit to what we can endure. However, the price we pay for surviving the struggle is steep.

By the time I read half of this book, I was filled with sadness. This is not the type of book I should be reading as throughout this winter I have struggled with stress and depression. I read on because I had to know what happens to these characters in whom I had become deeply invested. There has to be some light at the end of this literary tunnel, some redemption, joy even. After all, the title is All The Light We Cannot See…but by page 400 there is still no light.

By the time I had almost finished the book, I could barely read the last 50 pages because of the ugly, depressing, soul-destroying events that occur page after page in relentless succession. Surely there can be no light in reliving this dismal history? I understand Doerr’s metaphors and by the end of the book I could see the light he refers to in the title, but that light just didn’t shine brightly enough to make me feel that reading this book was a gift and something that I shouldn’t have missed out on. The novel has its share of beauty and light, to be sure, but the cold, hard facts of what people endured in World War II at the hands of a fascist dictator are definitely not something I ever want to relive in a story, of any kind, ever again.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom the magic strings of frankie prestoBook Review

Title: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Author:  Mitch Albom
Imprint: Harper Paperbacks
Released: October 25, 2016
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 0062294431
ISBN-13: 9780062294432
Stars:  5.0

Once in a very blue moon a book comes along that is so unique and wonderful, no – downright magical – that it immediately becomes one of the best books you’ve ever read. Those books are what I call five-star desert island classics; books I want to have with me for the rest of my life because I know I will read them again and again.

Recently, my client and dear friend Deborah Ledon recommended a book for me that she said she loved and was certain that I would love too. I bought the book, called The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, whose work I had read previously and especially adored in The Five People You Meet In Heaven (which I’ve so far read twice). Albom is a maestro of the rhythm of storytelling and I believe he has created his magnum opus with The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, a book narrated by Music itself.

Francisco de Asís Pascual Presto was born in Villareal, Spain in August 1936 in a church where his mother had sought refuge from El Terror Rojo – the Red Terror – revolutionaries and militiamen who were angry with the new government. Francisco’s mother Carmencita was aided by a young nun as she gave birth to her son, and we later learn that she died after childbirth and the nun took care of the newborn, who would not cry, in his early days as an infant. Before Carmencita dies, she sings a melody to her baby, a song called “Lágrima” (teardrops) by the renowned Spanish guitarist Francisco Tárrega, and the song is immediately ingrained in baby Frankie’s memory.

On the boy’s first birthday his guardian takes him into town to its largest store where Frankie hears a song by Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia on a wind-up gramophone for the first time, and he finally cries. In fact, he continues to cry constantly and the only thing that will ease his torment is music.

Frankie is raised by a blind guitar teacher in Spain, known to him as El Maestro, who gives him six mysterious blue strings and a beautiful acoustic guitar, educates him in music, and allows Frankie’s magnificent talent to blossom.

Throughout this extraordinary story, we travel back through Frankie Presto’s illustrious history from the 1940s jazz scene to the Grand Ole Opry, to the birth of rock and roll and Woodstock, while Frankie (accompanied by his hairless dog with no name) searches for his childhood sweetheart, Aurora York. We meet some of the great artists who influenced him and were influenced by him along the way, including Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Darlene Love, Tony Bennett and Paul Stanley to name a few, who help Music to narrate the tale.

I couldn’t believe it when in Part Five of the novel, Albom wrote about Paul Stanley‘s reminiscences of Frankie Presto, at the end of which he recalled:

“It’s funny. In 1999, I got a chance to play the lead in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. I’ve never tried anything like that. But I went for it, partly because my son at the time was about five years old. And I remember thinking, “I want him to see me in this.”

Well, I saw Paul Stanley, guitarist and founding member of KISS, in 1999, in Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, and he was absolutely brilliant!

I was mesmerized by Albom’s story from the very first chapter and found myself smiling a lot, although sometimes tearing up too while reading Music’s epic tale about Frankie’s journey to discover what matters most in life and how the power of talent can change our lives. Music, fame, true love and the inevitable fall from grace shape the melody and harmonies of Frankie’s soundtrack and like all great soundtracks, leave us thinking about our own.

Like most of us, Frankie doesn’t get through life unscathed and has to deal with more than his fair share of tragedy, but music, love, and the magic of synchronicity save him, again and again.

This passage brought tears to my eyes with its simple truth:

He recalled a conversation with his teacher.

“Why do the strings make different sounds, Maestro?”
“It is simple. They work like life.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The first string is E. It is high pitched and quick like a child.
“The second string is B. It is pitched slightly lower, like the squeaky voice of a teenager.
“The third string, G, is deeper, with the power of the young man.
“The fourth string, D, is robust, a man at full strength.
“The fifth string, A, is solid and loud but unable to reach high tones, like a man who can no longer do what he did.”
“And the sixth string, Maestro?”
“The sixth is the low E, the thickest, slowest, and grumpiest. You hear how deep? Dum-dum-dum. Like it is ready to die.”
“Is that because it is closest to heaven?”
“No, Francisco. It is because life will always drag you to the bottom.”

I love the messages in this story that tell us with perseverance, practice, and determination, we can overcome the largest of obstacles in our lives…and the loyalty of a good dog can sometimes save us. But ultimately, true love and leaving a positive legacy for our children, is what matters most in life, and for this die-hard romantic, no truer words have ever been written.

With this book, Mitch Albom has become one of my favourite authors. I hope that you will read it so that he will become one of your favourites too.

 

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti SmithBook Review
Title: Just Kids
Author:  Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco
Released: October 24, 2010
Pages: 306
ISBN-10: 0060936223
ISBN-13: 978-0060936228
Stars:  5.0

Like Patti Smith, I grew up writing poetry and listening to rock’n’roll. That is where the similarity ends because I am not an artist, only an appreciator of them. Although I haven’t read Arthur Rimbaud or Jean Genet, nor have I yet been to Paris, I have always been captivated by the music of the 70s and the writings of Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll and Jim Morrison. I had no idea that Shepard and Carroll were Smith’s lovers but reading the dreamy, tender narrative of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe surprised me in many ways, including the fact that he was also her lover, because I knew he was openly gay. Until now, I haven’t known very much about Patti Smith except that some of my friends are big fans of hers, she’s collaborated with Springsteen (one of my music heroes), and that her poetry, music and art earned her a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

I often dream of where I’d go if I had my own hot tub time machine and New York City during the late 60s/early 70s is definitely one of the places I’d choose. Patti Smith was born almost 20 years before me, but I’ve listened to and loved a lot of the music that was created by her contemporaries (in particular, The Doors and Janis Joplin) and have been a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography for a long time. However, she has made me appreciate his work with new eyes and I’m grateful for that. Reading Smith’s autobiography Just Kids is the next best thing to using a hot tub time machine as she has written an exquisite account of her early years as a struggling artist and Mapplethorpe’s muse.

From 1967 to 1978, Patti shares her memories of their lives in New York City and specifically at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a dreamscape so perfectly realized and vividly fascinating that you feel as if you’re there with them. We meet many legendary artists including William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard and Tom Verlaine, although none of them holds a candle to the flame that is the telling of the birth of Smith’s and Mapplethorpe’s artistic legacy.

Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946 and was part of a close knit family that included her siblings Linda, Todd and Kimberly, who later relocated with their parents to South Jersey. What struck me about Patti that I wasn’t expecting is that she’s a very down-to-earth, deeply spiritual person and was never a drug addict as one who hasn’t known her might imagine based on her skinny heroin chic look and the time in which she came of age and became famous for being a punk rocker poet. In researching her for this review, I discovered that we share a very similar view of religion as well:

I believe there is good in in [sic] all religions. But religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition. (Rolling Stone)

Patti’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe was utterly pure and transcended any boundaries that society might have wanted to instill upon them. Although they weren’t meant to be together as husband and wife, they were most certainly soul mates (regardless of her marriage to MC5 guitarist Fred Sonic Smith) up until his tragic death at the age of 42. On March 9, 1989 Robert died from complications due to AIDS. Her recollection of his passing within the pages of this book brought me to tears. Just Kids opens with the phone call she received from Robert’s brother Edward telling her that he had finally succumbed to his illness, at which moment she was listening to Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, and it ends with her making peace with having to say goodbye. (“Smile for me Patti, as I am smiling for you.”) In between, we get to know Robert Mapplethorpe as intimately as a stranger can and develop an understanding of what inspired him as an artist as she traces “their first meetings (there were two of them before one fateful night in Tompkins Square Park) to their days in and out of hotels, love affairs, creative collaborations, nightclubs, and gritty neighborhoods…” (Interview Magazine)

Just Kids is a masterpiece, filled with iconic black and white photographs of Smith and Mapplethorpe, including some of their art and a few of Smith’s poems as well. She’s a very gifted poet and although I confess that I was never a big fan of her music aside from “Because The Night” and “Power To The People”, (I was 11 when Horses was released) I’m listening to it now with new ears and would love to read more of her poetry and song lyrics because this book has made me fall for her…hard. I now understand why she has endured and why there will never be another female rock artist like her. Anyone who can write a memoir that inspires someone to discover their career forty years after it began deserves to be the national treasure that Patti Smith is.

 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (My All-Time Favourite Series of Books)

Outlander by Diana GabaldonBook Review
Title: Outlander
Author:  Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Seal Books
Released: October 9, 2001
Pages: 896
ISBN-10: 0770428797
ISBN13: 978-0770428792
Stars:  5.0

Like millions of other Outlander fans, I’ve been watching the new Starz television series of the same name and LOVE it! I think the producers have done an excellent job of staying true to the book and I’m sure that’s because author Diana Gabaldon is a consultant for the series. The casting of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan as Claire & Jamie Fraser and Tobias Menzies as Frank/Black Jack Randall is perfect, and even though the casting of Dougal MacKenzie seems wrong because Graham McTavish doesn’t look like Dougal and seems too old for the part, he is doing a great job with it. I can’t wait to see what comes next…although having to wait for April 2015 to see the second part of Season 1 is PAINFUL!!

Needless to say the Outlander series of books are those which fans read over and over again. While I’m not a super-duper obsessed fan, I have always named Diana Gabaldon as my favourite author since I read the first four novels in the late 90’s. Then, like everyone else, I waited and waited and waited for the next books to be written and in the meantime, I had theChristine Bode meets Diana Gabaldon for the second time great pleasure of meeting Diana Gabaldon twice at book signings…once after the release of A Breath of Snow and Ashes (2005) and once after the release of Lord John and The Brotherhood of The Blade (2007).

I own all of her novels but I haven’t read the last two books in the Outlander series yet and that’s because I decided that I would have to make the time to re-read the series in order, back to back, so that everything would be fresh in my mind. I read A Breath of Snow and Ashes when it came out and haven’t read another of her books since. So, now is the time! The television series has inspired me and the next year will be the year of Diana Gabaldon for me. And what a sensational year of reading it will be!!

I finished reading Outlander for the second time at 3:00 am this morning. It took me two weeks and two days, and that’s with reading at least a couple of chapters a day. These mammoth tomes are hard for an engaged reader to put down so that they can sleep, work or just get on with their day. I know they’re very long novels, but I swear that every chapter is captivating.

Although there have been an army of authors who have tried to replicate the success of these novels for themselves, no one else has come close to the popularity of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. This very intelligent woman, who happens to hold three science degrees including a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, has sold over 25 million copies (the books have been published in 26 countries and in 23 languages) and continues to live happily with her husband in Scottsdale, Arizona. Diana Gabaldon is an extremely smart, charming, witty and beautiful woman and that’s why her books have stolen the hearts of so many people.

I’m going to reiterate what Outlander is about using Diana’s own words:

“In 1946, after WWII, a young Englishwoman named Claire Beauchamp Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank. She’s an ex-combat nurse, he’s been in the army as well, they’ve been separated for the last six years, and this is a second honeymoon; they’re getting re-acquainted with each other, thinking of starting a family. But one day Claire goes out walking by herself, and comes across a circle of standing stones—such circles are in fact common all over northern Britain.  She walks through a cleft stone in the circle…and disappears. Back into 1743, where the first person she meets is a gentleman in an 18th-century army officer’s uniform. This gentleman, Jack Randall, looks just like her husband Frank—and proves to be Frank’s six-times-great-grandfather. Unfortunately, he also proves to be a sadistic bisexual pervert, and while trying to escape from him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Highland Scots, who are also trying to get away from Black Jack Randall—though for other reasons.

In order to avoid being handed over to Captain Randall, Claire is obliged to marry one of the young clansmen. So she finds herself trying to escape from Castle Leoch and her Scottish captors, trying to get back to her husband Frank, trying to avoid being recaptured by Captain Randall—and falling in love with Jamie Fraser, the young man she’s been forced to marry. The story rolls on from there…”

And what an amazing, fantastic, romantic, adventurous, historical story it is!!

There’s not much more that I can add about Outlander except to say that if you haven’t read this series yet, do it! Now!! Before you die, you have to read at least the 8 novels that are currently in print (if you skip the Lord John Grey novels, you’ll be forgiven, but you should read them too) because I guarantee you, that if you love romantic, historical, adventurous, fantastical stories, no finer have ever been written. And no ladies, Jamie Fraser does not actually exist. A man like that is purely a fictional creation! Amen.

NOTE: Chapters Kingston is now selling the Outlander series (except for Written In My Own Heart’s Blood) for 2 for $15!

 

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones Mad About The Boy by Helen FieldingBook Review
Title: Bridget Jones Mad About The Boy
Author:  Helen Fielding
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Released: October 15, 2013
Pages: 386
ISBN-10: 0345807952
ISBN-13: 978-0345807953
Stars:  4.0

I’ll never forget reading Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was July 1998 and I was traveling through Ireland on my own for the first time. Helen Fielding’s iconic masterpiece was referred to me by my best friend who’d had it referred to her by a close girlfriend. I was sick with a terrible head cold and spent one day in the most miserable B&B in all of Ireland, I’m sure (Goin’ My Way in Dublin), trying to take care of myself. The room wasn’t clean, the mattresses were about three inches thick, the sheets musty, the pillow as flat as a pancake. There were cracks in the window and cobwebs everywhere. But I was too sick to care. It was cheap and I needed to just stay in bed and so I did and I read Bridget Jones’s Diary and I couldn’t put it down because I absolutely loved it!

Helen Fielding has been dubbed “the grandmother of chicklit” by Barbara Walters and I hadn’t read anything like chicklit before reading Bridget Jones’s Diary. She had created a single, thirty-something character who was bright, funny, insecure and far from perfect who had a circle of eccentric but loving friends and that’s almost exactly who I saw myself as at that time (I was 34). Bridget Jones is a woman that almost all women can relate to and in the third and long-time-coming novel about her, Bridget Jones Mad About The Boy, I can still relate to her 51-year-old self even though I’ve never married, had children, or had a partner die on me.

It’s no longer a surprise that Fielding decided to kill off the suave and debonair Mark Darcy (who loved Bridget “just the way she is”) and in fact, fans everywhere were horrified when they first heard the news. But it’s okay…really! The book only suffers a little from the fact that Darcy is not in it because his spirit certainly is and there are new characters that are almost as charming. Bridget still logs her calories and time spent tackling to-do lists in her diary. She still calls her pervert ex-boss Daniel Cleaver a friend, and while she’s more clean-living than she was in her 30s, she’s still as neurotic as she tries to figure out her way through raising two young children by herself while maneuvering through online dating in 2013. Of course it helps a lot that Darcy left her a fortune and she doesn’t really have to work to support her family. If he hadn’t this would have been a completely different book.

As the story begins, our heroine has been saved from her status as a born-again virgin by her soon to be 30-year-old toy boy Roxster whom she met on Twitter, but she doesn’t know how or whether she should invite him to her friend Talitha’s 60th birthday party, and she’s just discovered her children Mabel and Billy have head lice. Bridget is now attempting a career as a screenwriter and is adapting Ibsen’s Hedda Gabbler into a story relevant to modern women even though she thinks it was written by Chekhov and doesn’t know how to spell Gabler. She’s dealing with email inbox bombs, histrionic soccer moms, and trying to grow her followers on Twitter (while studying the Dalai Lama’s tweets). She has not got over the death of Mark, five years earlier, and she doesn’t know if she ever will. After the opening Prologue, Fielding takes us back to one year earlier and we find out how this situation came about.

There are appearances here by Daniel, Tom, Jude, Magda & Jeremy, Bridget’s mum and her friends Woney & Cosmo, but we also get to know Chloe the nanny, Perfect Nicolette, the Class Mother, gym teacher Mr. Wallaker (rather like Daniel Craig in appearance), first date Leatherjacketman, neighbour Rebecca, her eternally busy & bumbling agent Brian Katzenberg, and of course there’s a lot of flirtatious texting with Roxster in between Mummy moments. Bridget’s kids are endearing and into Minecraft and Plants versus Zombies too. However, none of the supporting characters in Mad About The Boy will ever be quite as appealing as Mark Darcy, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a fun, enjoyable read.

By Part Three of the book, Descent Into Chaos, Bridget’s life makes another U-turn and everything we supposed was going to happen, doesn’t. This is a good thing because the ending is a surprise. The tone changes and so does Bridget but there is an opening here for another volume, somewhere down the road.

The constant in Mad About The Boy is the comedy sprinkled with truly touching moments as expressed in a way that only Bridget Jones can. What really struck home for me this time was her decision to attend an obesity clinic to help her get her weight under control so she wouldn’t have to be a born-again virgin forever which is precisely what I’ve been going through for the past three months, during which time I haven’t eaten food but have been surviving on Optifast shakes, water, diet drinks and coffee with Stevia (I’ve lost 38 lbs).

The chapters on How Not To Do Dating, The Number One Key Dating Rule (DO NOT TEXT WHEN DRUNK) and Escalating Dating Incompetence are particularly hilarious. While I, too, find it easy enough to shag younger men, they’re not in it for a relationship and I can’t find anyone my own age with either integrity or baggage that’s light enough for me to carry. The thing is, Bridget Jones, even though she’s a fictional character, gives me hope! And that is the essence of her long-lasting appeal. She gives us all hope that we can figure out a way to get through the crap that life slings at us without totally losing our sense of humour and without having to give up on the notion that we’re entirely loveable just the way we are.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. StedmanBook Review
Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author:  M.L. Stedman
Publisher: Scribner
Released: July 31, 2012
Pages: 352
ISBN-10: 9781451681734
ISBN-13: 978-1451681734
Stars:  4.5

“On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below.” 

From the opening lines of M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, I was captivated by her sumptuous prose and engrossed in her exceedingly genuine main characters, Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel (Izzy) Graysmark. We’re introduced to them on a life-changing day before Stedman backtracks to Tom’s life eight years earlier and reveals how he became a lighthouse keeper, where he met Isabel and what brought them to this place.

I love stories that are set on or near water and there’s always been something mysterious and romantic about lighthouses, that je ne sais quois being something that Stedman was able to articulate in a most alluring fashion.  I wanted to know how a marriage could survive in the isolated confines of an island lighthouse on the coast of Western Australia in the 1920s which is why I chose to read this New York Times Bestseller.  I wasn’t at all disappointed.  I could smell the ocean breeze, taste the salty air, feel the rhythm of the waves, and see the way the light was magnified from the lighthouse’s lens over the water.  The romantic nature of Tom & Izzy’s island life was palpable.  I fell in love with the story and didn’t want it to end.

Their newlywed life on Janus Rock in 1922 is at first idyllic as inquisitive Izzy enjoys discovering everything there is to know about her new home and her husband’s job.  “On the Lights, you account for every single day.  You write up the log, you report what’s happened, you produce evidence that life goes on.”  A lighthouse keeper must keep not only a spotless station, but faultless records, as it’s a government appointed position that is held to the highest standards. After four years at war where “right and wrong don’t look so different any more to some,” Tom seeks peace and simplicity and can’t believe that this lovely young woman is happy to live alone with him on the islet where the supply boat (helmed by Ralph and Bluey) only arrives once a season and shore leave to Point Partageuse is granted only every other year.

Tom and Izzy are blissfully happy and it’s not long before they try to have a family. As is often the case for the most deserving parents, this couple is unfairly dealt emotional blow after blow as Izzy suffers three miscarriages over several years.  When one day a small boat washes up on their shore carrying a dead man and a perfectly healthy baby girl, we completely understand why Izzy, in her grief, chooses to make the decision to keep the baby and raise her as her own. She begs Tom to bury the man and to stay silent so that they can give Lucy the life she deserves.  We can’t blame her for her argument and feel great empathy for her when her choice comes back to haunt her in the most dreadful way.

A couple of years pass and one day Tom, Izzy and Lucy are together on the mainland visiting Izzy’s parents who are ecstatic about their new granddaughter, when they hear about a haunted woman named Hannah Roennfeldt whose husband and baby daughter were lost at sea and who couldn’t be anyone other than Lucy’s biological mother.  Tom realizes that he’s met Hannah before and his guilt over keeping their secret becomes so unbearable for him that he makes a decision that almost destroys his life. However, all the lines between right and wrong are blurred as we find justification for both Izzy and Tom’s sins while at the same time feeling great compassion for Hannah.

This is a wholly satisfying read in every sense.  The protagonists’ character development is flawless and secondary characters are decisive, if not fully realized.  The Light Between Oceans is intellectually, psychologically and emotionally captivating and asks some very tough questions. How can we live with ourselves if we keep shocking secrets?  How do we rationalize our choices in an unfair world?  How can you make a decision in which everyone loses?  Is the best mother always the biological one?

Equally quixotic and tragic, M.L. Stedman has succeeded in delivering a masterpiece of a debut novel with The Light Between Oceans. I can’t thank Simon & Schuster Canada enough for sending me a copy of this book to review! It’s a must read and I greatly anticipate reading Stedman’s future work.

Fifty Shades Trilogy by E L James: An Expected Disappointment

Fifty Shades Trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades FreedBook Review
Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Author:  E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 3, 2012
Pages: 528
ISBN-10: 0345803485
ISBN-13: 978-0345803481

Title: Fifty Shades Darker
Author: E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 17, 2012
Pages: 544
ISBN-10: 0345803493
ISBN-13: 978-0345803498

Title: Fifty Shades Freed
Author: E L James
Publisher: Vintage
Released: April 17, 2012
Pages: 592
ISBN-10: 0345803507
ISBN-13: 978-0345803498

Stars:  3.0

When you read 1,664 pages of a trilogy that only covers a period of a few months in the characters’ lives and end up giving it 3 stars, there’s a part of you that cries out, “I can’t get that time back!”  I have 200+ other books on my shelves that are waiting to be read that are probably better than these erotica novels by E L James.  In fact, I don’t usually read erotica (if you like this genre, I recommend A Love That Makes Life Drunk by Karen Roderick) but I read the Fifty Shades trilogy because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  No less than four of my girlfriends and my sister (who lent me her books) demanded that I had to read it.  Now that I have, I don’t understand what the fuss was about because it’s not a great piece of work, neither as literature, chick lit, erotica, or fiction.  It was the result of a brilliant marketing strategy as this story could have easily been told to great effect in one book of 800 pages or less and wouldn’t have lost any of its meaning or impact.  That being said, the main characters were interesting enough that I wanted to continue reading the series until the end, although when I got there, I was disappointed.  But I expected to be.  Talk about being wrapped up with a big, shiny bow!

Fifty Shades of Grey should have been called Fifty Shades of Fucked Up.  While the first installment of the tale of 21-year-old literature student turned graduate Anastasia Steele and her handsome, sadomasochistic, control freak, Dominant billionaire lover, Christian Grey was interesting in a psychological way and made me to want to read Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed (the bestselling trilogy of all time in the UK) to find out how things would unfold, the sex scenes in these books did not have me reaching for my vibrator or eHarmony.ca, but instead left me cold.  I’m a diehard romantic who is turned on by getting emotionally involved and attached to the heroes and heroines in a romantic novel, and when I am, and the author (Diana Gabaldon or Jane Porter for instance) writes a sensual and sexy love scene, then I am often capable of being aroused by it.  However, there is something too clinical and matter of fact in the sex scenes in Fifty Shades and they’re so frequent that they became boring.  I just wanted to read about the other parts of the characters’ lives.  I’m not attracted to Type A alpha males, but like Ana, I wanted Christian to talk more about his past so that I could understand why he was so emotionally and psychologically stunted.  And over the course of these three books, talk he did.  James didn’t leave one single thing about the lives of Ana & Christian to readers’ imaginations.  You could see absolutely everything coming for miles, there were no real surprises in the plot line, and she even went so far as to write excerpts at the end of Fifty Shades Freed from Christian’s childhood and his point of view on the day he met Ana.  That was too much for me.

There has been a lot said about the quality of E L James’ writing and while I didn’t think it was awful, it wasn’t great either.  Ana’s constant references to her inner goddess and subconscious drove me crazy and James’ use of them, to me, seemed like lazy writing.  The only way Ana responds to Christian’s words or actions most of the time is to exclaim in italics, “Holy fuck!”, “Holy cow!”, “Oh my!” and that’s just really lame.  She’s supposed to be an intelligent literature student so I think that she could have thought of some other way to express herself.  Mind you, she was a virgin when she met the most disturbed (yet loveable) man she could have possibly got involved with, and had absolutely no reference when it came to sex.  To Ana’s credit, she does get to say some clever things throughout this tale and I did care about her enough to finish reading it.  She’s a strong female character and not submissive at all.

The secondary characters, including Christian’s & Ana’s parents, his siblings Mia and Elliot and staff, Ana’s ex-boss Jack Hyde and closest friends Kate and Jose are almost superfluous and don’t really add much to the story, except to set up reasons for ensuing drama, including Christian’s rage and Ana’s concern for his safety (not her own), followed by more sex.  They are not written with remarkable personalities and Jack Hyde is a caricature of every revenge-seeking antagonist I’ve ever come across.

As a social experiment of a read, Fifty Shades is like watching a train wreck.  I was fascinated by it to the extent that I wouldn’t give up on the story or throw the book away, but it was so ridiculous at times, in the way that Ana & Christian (who I envisioned as Henry Cavill, the actor who seems to be the most excellent choice to play him in the inevitable films) kept enduring one drama after the next, with no time in between except to fornicate and experiment with new sex toys, that you’re just left shaking your head in exasperation.

Would I watch the film version of this trilogy?  Yes, if a reputable director and screenwriter took on the project, Henry Cavill played Christian and someone like Krysten Ritter played Ana…I’d watch it.  I think that Hollywood might be able to make it into something worthy to watch because there’s no way they could put as many of the sex scenes into the film as there are in the books and get away with a publicly acceptable rating.  And sometimes, less is just more.

A Barefoot Pilgrimage to Santiago: A Talk by Sue Kenney

My client, Sue Kenney, bestselling author of My Camino, is currently walking the Camino de Compostela in Spain with a group of 11, and she’s walking BAREFOOT!!

You can keep up with their amazing journey on Sue’s Facebook page where she’ll be posting new content about their walk every day from now until June 2nd!

Sue Kenney is also the author of Confessions of a Pilgrim, a pilgrim, life/Camino coach, workshop facilitator, filmmaker (Las Peregrinas) and inspirational speaker and is offering to share her stories, tips and experiences she had while walking barefoot on the Camino.  She will have just completed 225kms, walking from Ponferrada while leading a group, and plans to arrive in Santiago May 31st, 2012.

This is her 9th Camino.

Everyone is welcome.

Saturday June 2, 2012

1:00-2:30pm

Campus Stellae Hospideria

Avda. de las Ciencias S/N

Contact Sue Kenney at 34 693 85 32 29

www.suekenney.ca

mycaminobook@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/MyCaminoBook 

SUSEYA WORKSHOP

It’s all about being a pilgrim in life.

What are you doing with your life now that you’ve walked the CaminoYou are a pilgrim and on your way home.  You know that things will be different.  Your perspective has shifted and it might be more difficult to identify the yellow arrows once you are away from the Camino.  Why not get the support of an expert pilgrim and life coach who can guide you along the way? Sue Kenney is offering a unique start-up program to provide the insight, guidance and tools pilgrims can apply to help to integrate the Camino experience into their life back home.  Sue is currently walking 225kms of the Camino from Ponferrada while leading a group of pilgrims and plans to arrive in Santiago May 31st, 2012.

It’s called Suseya Start

A coaching program for Camino Pilgrims to facilitate a step by step practice. Faciliated by Sue Kenney

Friday June 1, 2012

1:00-3:00pm

Saturday Campus Stellae Hospideria

Avda. de las Ciencias S/N

Donativo

Contact Sue Kenney at 34 693 85 32 29

www.suekenney.ca

mycaminobook@gmail.com

What is Suseya? When the pilgrims of the past walked the Camino they were greeted with the Latin word Ultreya…onward. Once in Santiago, they had to turn around and walk the entire way back home. On the way they were greeted with the word Suseya which means upward.

Join Sue for these one-of-a-kind special events in Santiago!  It’s not too late.

You can also listen to Sue talk about the Camino and barefootin’ with Margaret Stuart on the Mango Tiger Radio Show here and on the RunRunLive Running Podcast here.

Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Book Review
Title: Spin
Author: Catherine McKenzie
Publisher: Harper Weekend
Release: December 20, 2010
Pages: 480 pages
ISBN-10: 1554687594
ISBN-13: 978-1554687596
Stars: 3.5

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know know know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go go go ~ Amy Winehouse

Celebrities in rehab…Theirs is an age-old, yet timeless tale that allows so many of us to feel better about ourselves when we witness that people who seem to have it all are every bit as screwed up as we are.  Certainly anyone who has watched Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH1 knows this.

Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way, and you are beginning to grasp the literary roller coaster ride that is Catherine McKenzie’s Spin. Filled with brutal honesty and wry humour, Spin is a story for anyone who has ever woken up hungover and thought, ‘Do I have a problem? Yes–I need to find a greasy breakfast.’ And by that I mean everyone I know.” –Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail columnist, author of The Continuity Girl

At the beginning of the critically acclaimed chick lit novel Spin by Canadian novelist and lawyer, Catherine McKenzie, 30-year-old wannabe music journalist and party girl Kate Sanford’s life is spinning out of control.  She’s a lying alcoholic who doesn’t acknowledge her own flaws until she’s presented with the opportunity to land the job of her dreams writing about music for The Line magazine.  Only there’s one big catch.  In order to prove to its publishers that she’s got the stuff it takes to be successful in a job that so many people want but few can do well, she has to go to rehab and she can’t tell anyone about it.

Katie’s sent undercover to spy on Hollywood “It Girl”, The Girl Next Door television star, Amber Sheppard and expose the truth about her struggles with crack addiction and her toxic, on-again, off-again relationship with the Young James Bond star, a caricature of one of many handsome, insipid, dickhead Hollywood celebrities: Connor Parks.  Predictably, Katie ends up genuinely liking Amber as she gets to know her in rehab, not to mention Connor Parks’ personal assistant, the strong, attractive, ginger-haired, silent type, Henry Slattery.  As convenience would have it, Connor decides to follow Amber into rehab to f**k with her head and can’t go anywhere without Henry.  (Entourage anyone?)  Here’s where the “will they get together, or won’t they?” scenario comes into play.

McKenzie seems to have done her research where the paparazzi, rehab, and AA meetings are concerned, and there is a genuinely touching moment when another young woman in rehab tries to commit suicide.  There is also a lot of humour in this novel and it was fun to read Katie’s music playlist at the back of the book.  I smiled at the references to my favourite band, U2, in the last chapter.  However, there is nothing interesting about the supporting characters including Katie’s geeky roommate Joanne, her Scottish party pal Greer or her anorexic BFF, Rory.  And although its characters may be honest, there is nothing fresh and unique about this story which is why it makes it the perfect fodder for a formulaic romantic comedy.  If I’m honest, I’d tell you that I’d watch that movie too, particularly if it featured a perfect specimen of man beast eye candy (say a young Paul Bettany) as Henry.

Although Spin is comic and poignant, it’s not heart-breaking.  It does explore the question “How far would you go to get what you always wanted?” as well as “How afraid are you to get what you’ve always wanted? (a relevant question in my life), and although Katie has been compared in the press to a 21st century Bridget Jones, she just doesn’t have that charm and je ne sais quoi that made Bridget Jones the character responsible for the billion dollar chick lit industry that we are familiar with today.  Many writers have tried to emulate Ms. Jones, but none of them have done so with major success and Catherine McKenzie hasn’t done it either.  I will give her full kudos for trying and I do admit that I read this book quite quickly and enjoyed every fun-filled minute of it.  But it’s no work of art.  It’s simply a decent read for a weekend at the beach.

Can any chick lit novel really be a work of art?  Writers can create enjoyable, compelling reads in this genre, and I’ve enjoyed many, but ultimately chick lit is the popcorn of literature.

If you want to watch a film that explores the ridiculousness of fame and the vultures that are the paparazzi, check out Tom DiCillo’s Delirious starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman.  It won’t take you as long to watch as it will to read Spin.

Life by Keith Richards

Book Review
Title: Life
Author:  Keith Richards (with James Fox)
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Released: 2010
Pages: 576
ISBN-10: 031603438X
ISBN-13: 978-0316034388
Stars:  4.0

On the inside jacket cover of Keith Richard’s autobiography, Life, it reads in Keith’s handwriting: “This is the Life.  Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.  Thanks and praises, Keith Richards”.

Well, it seems pretty amazing to me that Keith could remember everything that has happened to him in his extraordinary life, considering I’m 21 years younger and can’t remember everything about my own less than extraordinary life and haven’t consumed a fraction of the drugs that he has!  However, I will say that with his co-writer James Fox’s help, Richards has written a very compelling road trip of a tale of what life has been like for him from the time he was a boy in Dartford, England (he was especially close to his mum, Doris & Aunt Patty and we are privy to some of his letters to her), to his grandfather Gus teaching him his first guitar lick, to the day he met his destiny – and perhaps arch nemesis – in the form of the young Mick Jagger, to the day they formed The Rolling Stones; and later, to the lows of heroin addiction as well as Keith’s joy in being a part of the X-pensive Winos and the Wingless Angels.

The hefty, award-winning (Norman Mailer Prize) tome opens with a recount of Keith’s bust in Arkansas during the 1975 Stones tour with much humour and fond recollection for both foolish choices and dangerous behaviour.  He reviews other busts as well, including one at his English home in Redlands, at Nellcộte in France, and the infamous 1977 Toronto arrest, and doesn’t shy away from talking about his drug consumption, what happened at Altamont in 1969, Stones mythology, or his own, at times, less than flattering behaviour.  If it wasn’t for their powerhouse criminal lawyer, Bill Carter, Richards would have spent a lot more of his rocker days behind bars.  Keith recalls, “The choice always was a tricky one for the authorities who arrested us.  Do you want to lock them up, or have your photograph taken with them and give them a motorcade to see them on their way?”  All laws do not apply to celebrities or really wealthy people and never have.

A lot of what has been written about Keith Richards has been fabricated or twisted by his own careless exclamations and the truth is that he has never had a blood transfusion; he just has a phenomenal constitution.

I can’t untie the threads of how much I played up to the part that was written for me.  I mean the skull ring and the broken tooth and the kohl.  Is it half and half?  I think in a way your persona, your image, as it used to be known, is like a ball and chain.  People think I’m still a goddamn junkie.  It’s thirty years since I gave up the dope!  Image is like a long shadow.  Even when the sun goes down, you can see it.  I think some of it is that there is so much pressure to be that person that you become it, maybe, to a certain point that you can bear.  It’s impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were.

What shines through in Keith’s Life is his absolute, undying passion for music, the legendary musicians who have influenced him throughout his career (Louis Armstrong, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters), his on-again, off-again love affair with The Stones, and his unquestionable love for his family: wife Patti Hansen, son Marlon, daughter Angela (whose mother is Anita Pallenberg) and daughters Alexandra & Theodora with Patti.  He talks a lot about the technical aspects of being a musician and as a non-musician, that wasn’t quite as interesting for me, but I loved reading about his friendships and escapades with other celebs and infamous music figures.

There are some wonderful glossy black & white and colour photos from Richards’ archives in two sections of the book as well as black & white memories at the beginning of each chapter with a synopsis of the main events covered in the chapter which makes the book easy to skim through to find what you’re looking for.

I found Keith’s relationships with Gram Parsons and John Lennon (“He was so open.  In anybody else, this could be embarrassing.  But John had this honesty to his eyes that made you go for him.  Had an intensity too.  He was a one-off.  Like me.”) very interesting and poignant, and reliving his relationship with Anita Pallenberg was somewhat akin to a raucous amusement park ride.  Brian Jones seemed to be a walking disaster from the start, but we don’t get to know much about Mick Taylor (except that he was quite moody), Ron Wood or Bill Wyman as Keith is closest to Charlie Watts.  We get a peripheral view of what was going on in the other band member’s lives from time to time, but this is, after all, Keith’s story and if you’re looking for the truth about the Glimmer Twins, you’ll get his side of the story here.  I also noticed that he is a total gentleman when it comes to describing the women in his life and there have been a few (first love Haleema Mohamed, Ronnie Spector, Linda Keith & Uschi Obermaier), and is very loyal to his mates too.

I concluded from reading Keith’s book that Mick Jagger is the cold, pretentious, entitled prick I always thought he was (“Mick doesn’t like to trust anybody.  I’ll trust you until you prove you’re not trustworthy.  And maybe that’s the major difference between us.”) which is why I never really liked him or have considered myself a huge Stones fan even though I always thought that Keith was one, cool, f***ing freak of nature.  It’s quite a miracle really that the band didn’t break up 30 years ago.  Charlie Watts has probably just as much to do with their longevity than anyone else in the band, but Keith is indubitably its heart and soul.  Perhaps because of the fact that for “many years I slept, on average, twice a week,” Keith Richards has done more in his 69 years than most people do if they live to be 120.

I love much of the Stones’ music because they created brilliant songs that are indelibly etched into the soundtrack of my youth (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, “Sympathy For The Devil”, “Paint It Black”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Satisfaction”, “Angie”). I regret, sadly, that I’ve never seen them in concert and likely never will.  However, reading Keith Richards’ Life does help to dull the pain and it’s a helluva fun trip too!