The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me by Cathie Borrie

The Long Hello by Cathie BorrieBook Review
Title: The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me
Author:  Cathie Borrie
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Released: January 6, 2015
Pages: 225
ISBN: 978-1-4767-9251-4
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  2.5

 

My younger sister died five months ago today from ovarian cancer at the age of 48 so it’s quite possible that I’m just not in the right frame of mood to be reading and reviewing a memoir about a woman who spent seven years caring for her mother before she died from Alzheimer’s in her late 80’s. Nonetheless, the good people at Simon & Schuster enticed me into reading The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me by Cathie Borrie by using these paragraphs to describe it:

“It explores the emotional rewards and challenges that Cathie Borrie experienced in caring for her mother, who was living with Alzheimer’s disease, for seven years. Between the two, a wondrously poetic dialogue develops, which Ms. Borrie further illuminates with childhood memories of her family, and her struggle to maintain a life outside her caregiving responsibilities. The Long Hello demonstrates how caregiving creates an opportunity to experience the change in a relationship that illness necessitates, one in which joy, meaning, and profound intimacy can flourish. 

Written in spare, beautiful prose, largely in the form of a dialogue, The Long Hello exquisitely captures the intricacies and nuances of a daughter’s relationship with her mother.”

After reading the book, this is not my experience of it. My 62-year-old cousin, who cared for her own mother while she was dying from Alzheimer’s three years ago, read it before me and she found Borrie’s to be very unlike her own experience and not as moving or profound as she thought it might be based on what we were led to believe by the above description either.

Another thing that caught my attention and makes me wonder is why Simon & Schuster chose to use the quote “Joy!” from Maya Angelou on the cover of the book because it hasn’t been published yet and Angelou died on May 28, 2014. If she did indeed have a chance to read this book before she passed away, I would have thought she’d have more to say about it than one word, but this to me is suspicious and the word is in my humble opinion, inappropriate.

Born in Vancouver, Borrie started her career as a nurse before attaining a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and later graduated from Law School at the University of Saskatchewan. In 2005, she earned a Certificate in Creative Writing from The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. She is also a ballroom dancer and has performed in the theatre and as a clown. She has some impressive credentials but I don’t feel that this book “is immensely lyrical and moving” nor a “powerful display of Cathie Borrie’s talent as a writer.”

On a positive note, it’s a very quick read. I read it in two sittings. It’s written somewhat like a journal, almost in point form with the Canadian author flipping back and forth between her past and the present as she’s caring for her mother who is slowly slipping further and further away into the tunnel of dementia. However, I find that there is very little joy in this book aside from the often amusing things that Cathie’s mother Jo says as she’s losing her mind. Borrie recorded conversations with her mother so that she could write this memoir but her own emotions come across as flat and depressed, which I can totally understand that she would be, while going through such a difficult experience. When she describes the facts of her life, they’re just that, facts. The way she’s written them down it appears that she’s had very little joy in her life and maybe that’s the truth of it, I don’t know. She was, at the time of writing The Long Hello a 51-year-old single woman who couldn’t get her own needs met, but was compelled to do everything she could to help her mother before she died and that I can definitely relate to. But it makes for a sad, downer of a read and I was somewhat offended when she wrote this passage:

“My surgeon’s in his forties, easy on the eyes.

“How are things?”

“I’ve been praying for ovarian cancer.”

“You what?”

“So I’d be dead before you have to replace my hip. I figured it was a fast cancer so I’d be dead before my name got to the top of your waiting list.”

The things people say and write when they’re depressed…I’m telling you. We shouldn’t be allowed near a writing implement. I know this from experience.

Cathie Borrie’s mother left her alcoholic father when she was a young girl and soon after her 13-year-old brother Hugh was killed in a random fight with a neighbourhood bully. His, like so many others, was an utterly tragic and meaningless death. Years later, her mother remarried an older man who was always away on business but when he was home he didn’t want his wife’s child to be there because he’d already raised one family and didn’t want to deal with Cathie so she was sent away to boarding school, a fact that upsets her for the rest of her life.

Three quarters of the way through The Long Hello, Cathie’s mother asks, “What happened to the joy of life, Cath?” She replies, “I don’t know, what do you think?” “I think you thought it was going to be better than it was.” That is certainly a statement I can relate to at this point in my life and I also identified to Cathie saying, “I wish I was dead too. And when I’m old there isn’t going to be anyone left to take care of me…No one left who knows my story.” “Goddamn it, Hughie – why did I have to be the one left behind?” I’m sure that’s how many people feel when they lose a beloved sibling because I have and that’s exactly how I feel. And I didn’t need to read this book to be reminded of it.

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

Book Review
Title: The Reckoning
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Release: June 2012
Pages: 352 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4516-5180-5
Stars: 4.0

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu picks up where the first book in her supernatural, gothic trilogy, The Taker, ends.  Katsu describes The Taker as “a story about desire, obsession and the dark things we sometimes do for love.”  It’s also about the curse of immortality and the price paid by its victims.

I didn’t realize that The Taker was part of a trilogy when I read and reviewed it for Simon & Schuster Canada, but now that I’ve read the second book, I can’t wait for the final piece of this extraordinarily compelling puzzle which is currently known as The Descent.  This trilogy is a Twilight for adults (R-rated) although its main characters are not vampires.  While I found The Taker to be quite melancholy because of its focus on an unrequited love story, The Reckoning, is more visceral and suspenseful in the way it expresses Lanny’s terror in being reunited with her maker, Adair, which is her worst nightmare made manifest.

The Reckoning opens with main character, Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae, a 200 year old immortal, living with her latest human lover, Dr. Luke Findley in London, England.  Lanny has just donated a collection of lost 19th century artifacts to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the featured treasure being a fan autographed to her by the poet, Lord Byron that had been given to her by the love her life: the astonishingly beautiful Jonathan St. Andrew.  We learn more about why Jonathan begged Lanny to release him from the chains of immortality, why she agreed, and the ultimate price she has to pay for her actions.

Near the end of The Taker, we discover that Lanny and Jonathan have sealed their maker, Adair (the Count cel Rau from Romania), in the walls of his Boston home, but two centuries later, the house is demolished and Adair is free to seek revenge on his imprisoners.  Only Lanny knows the horrors that Adair is capable of inflicting and she realizes that she can’t allow Luke to stay with her and continue to live as a fugitive when it’s only a matter of time before Adair catches up with them and unleashes his vengeance.  The narrative unfolds primarily between London and Boston with pit stops in ancient Venice, Casablanca, Marquette, Michigan, Maine, Barcelona, Pisa, Aspen, Colorado and Lake Garda, Italy as Lanny tries to keep as much distance as possible between herself and Adair.

Adair’s minions, the greedy Jude, the fiendish Tilde (who is exquisitely demonic!) and the deceptive Alejandro are back in this volume, and we meet two other immortals bound to Adair: the long-suffering Savva and his newest convert, Pendleton.  These secondary characters are integral to the story and are tremendously entertaining, but it is Adair who you will never forget.  He’s a 21st century Lestat, only far less charming and much more vicious.

The Reckoning is Adair’s story and it’s the tale of an immortal man who has existed for almost 1,000 years in a body that doesn’t belong to him. He’s a man who is so morally bankrupt and inherently evil that everyone who knows him fears him for the monster that he is.  What makes him truly captivating is that although Adair essentially still possesses a human soul, his is a soul who might just be the only soul in all creation who has never been loved.  This is the story of a soul whose battle is against his desire to change and his inability to overcome his intrinsic nature.

Could a person like that change?  I didn’t want to be uncharitable; I wanted to believe everyone is capable of change, of acting selflessly, of becoming a better person.  The longer we live, the more we understand and develop empathy for our fellow man, and are moved to change our selfish ways.  I would hate to meet the person who was forever inured to the misery of others.

Adair, who is well-practiced in the art of alchemy, is so powerful that not only is he capable of astral travel and lighting fires with his mind, but he can raise the dead.  And he just might have to spend all of eternity engaged in penitence for his sins.  Even though he’s a rapist and a murderer, Katsu writes him with such complexity and compassion that we can find empathy for him as he endures his own torture.

By the end of The Reckoning, we realize that Lanny, who on the outside appears as a kidnapping victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, is bound to Adair for eternity, no matter where she goes, what she does, or who she loves, and therein lies her fate.

I love a good paranormal mystery/romance and this trilogy by Alma Katsu will fit perfectly between my collection of Anne Rice, Clive Barker and Stephenie Meyer novels.  I see movies of these books being made and envision Rufus Sewell as Adair and Mia Wasilkowska as Lanny, but I can’t yet imagine what actor could be considered beautiful enough to play Jonathan.  Johnny Depp is unfortunately now too old for the part.

I feel privileged to have been able to read an advanced reader’s edition of The Reckoning and will be a die-hard fan of Katsu’s for as long as she continues to write.

The Time In Between by Maria Dueñas

BOOK REVIEW
Title: The Time In Between
Author: Maria Dueñas
Publisher: Atria Books
Released: November 2011
Pages: 624
ISBN-10: 1451616880
ISBN-13: 9781451616880
Stars: 3.0

A book could have all the rave reviews in the world from prestigious sources (as this one does); it could have a beautiful, stylish jacket, an author who is a PhD, and be set in countries that you have an interest in, and still not be what you expected it to be.  This is the case for me with The Time In Between by Maria DueñasSimon & Schuster Canada generously gifted me with an advanced reader’s copy of this bulky, literary spy novel because after I read its synopsis, I really wanted to read it.

The Time In Between by Maria Duenas is an international bestseller that spans the Spanish Civil War to World War II. This beautifully spun novel tells the story of a seamstress who rises to become the most sought after couturier and an undercover spy who passes information about the Nazi regime to the British Secret Service through a secret code stitched into the hems of her dresses.

The Time In Between is one of those rare, richly textured novels that, down to the last page, has you hoping it won’t end. Written in splendid prose, it moves at an unstoppable pace. An exceptional debut, it is a thrilling adventure through ateliers of haute couture, the glamorous elite, political conspiracies and obscure secret service missions blended with the unhinged power of love.”

The fact that it took me over two months to read and I seldom found myself wanting to make time to finish it is definitely not a good sign.  I’m trying to figure out why I feel this way about the book because it certainly has an interesting storyline and I enjoyed the section that was set in the Spanish Protectorate of Morocco (Tetouan) very much.  However, I just didn’t really connect with the main character, Sira Quiroga, because she felt quite restrained and lacking in passion for life and love and that’s not how I expected to feel.  She evolves from a being an uneducated young woman who is foolish in love, to a self-doubting, fearful entrepreneur, to a confident, globetrotting secret agent.  I pictured her as Angelina Jolie: someone who is beautiful to look at, interesting for a while, capable of acting fragile or tough, and then you just get sick of her.  Perhaps some of her character traits didn’t translate well from the original Spanish (Daniel Hahn translated), but I found it hard to really empathize with her or understand why she would decide to become a spy for the British when she didn’t seem to have any real understanding of what was going on in her own homeland of Spain nor in England during World War II at the time that she became a spy.

The novel begins in Madrid at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War with a young, naïve Sira about to marry a “modest government clerk” after knowing him for only a few weeks.  She works as a seamstress with her mother in a local dressmaker’s shop that services a distinguished clientele.   As she is considered a girl with no professional expectations, it makes sense to her to marry Ignacio and become a wife and perhaps later, a mother.  But she doesn’t really love him and it doesn’t take long for her to be completely swept off her feet by a smooth-talking, tall, dark and handsome typewriter salesman named Ramiro who she meets when Ignacio convinces her that she should learn how to type and takes her shopping for a typewriter.  Sira quickly breaks Ignacio’s heart when she leaves him for Ramiro.

Sira’s mother, who had raised her as an only child on her own, introduces Sira to her father, a wealthy engineer and foundry owner named Gonzalo Alvarado, who is married and has two sons from whom he is estranged.  Gonzalo is worried about the state their country is in under Franco’s dictatorship and fears for his life so he decides to put his affairs in order and acknowledge his daughter by giving her an inheritance consisting of boxes of family jewels.  He convinces Sira that she must leave Madrid for Morocco where it will be safe and although her mother refuses to join her, Ramiro goes willingly to Tangiers, and later, unsurprisingly, deceives Sira by leaving her and stealing her family jewels.

Alone and unable to pay her hotel bill, Sira flees to Tetouan with next to nothing, only to be apprehended by Commissioner Claudio Vázquez who then decides to help her get back on her feet so that she can repay her debt, by putting her in the care of a street smart boardinghouse owner named Candelaria.  Candelaria the Matutera (the Smuggler) is one of my favourite characters in the book because she has a large, fearless personality to go with her heart of gold.  She doesn’t always operate on the right side of the law, but she’s a survivor who is willing to help those who are less fortunate and will do whatever it takes to keep food on her table and the authorities off her case.  It’s not long before Candelaria and Sira embark on a dangerous, exciting adventure that leads to Sira being able to set up her own dressmaker’s shop where she suddenly finds herself making clothes for wealthy Nazi’s wives and meets a mysterious blonde British waif named Rosalinda Fox.  Rosalinda is involved in an extramarital affair with Spain’s high commissioner in Morocco, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Luis Beigbeder and they (who were in fact real people) are responsible for recruiting Sira for a life of espionage.

I was quite transfixed with the story up until this critical juncture.  Sira’s friendship with Rosalinda presents a pivotal turning point in her life.  Dueñas’ narrative prose is exceptional and historical research thorough.  The story moves quite quickly in Part One and is still captivating in Part Two (Tangiers in the 1930s) where we meet another interesting character named Félix who becomes a good friend to Sira.  However, as the plot becomes more about politics and espionage, the characters who are introduced are unsympathetic and tedious, with the exception of Marcus Logan, but even he isn’t allowed to be truly remarkable until the very end and by then I just didn’t care.

A lot more occurs in The Time In Between, but I won’t give away the entire plot.  It’s full of twists, turns and individuals whose lives later intersect.  By Part Three, Dueñas started to lose me and from there on it took me a long time to finish reading the book.  In Part Four, Sira, now using the name of Arish and pretending to be Moroccan, departs for Lisbon to try to infiltrate a textile distributor named Manuel Da Silva who is in business with the Third Reich.

So in contradiction of Simon & Schuster’s synopsis, I found myself wishing the book would end because it moved from the second half on at a sluggish pace and I didn’t find much emphasis was put on the power of love at all.  This is not a love story but rather the story of a gifted seamstress who discovers that she has what it takes to be a great spy, in spite of the people she cares about.  This is just my opinion.  A Nobel Prize Laureate loved it so I think you’ll have to decide for yourself.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Book Review
Title: The Map Of Time
Author:  Felix J. Palma
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Released: June 27, 2011
Pages: 624
ISBN-10: 1439167397
ISBN-13: 978-1439167397
Stars:  4.0

I recall that The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma was a very fun Sci-Fi/Adventure read, filled with fascinating concepts, but to be honest I’m so behind in my book reviews that I have read six other books since this one, so I will do my best to reiterate my opinion of Palma’s now.

Originally, Felix J. Palma’s novel was printed in Spanish as he is a celebrated and critically acclaimed author in Spain.  Simon & Schuster Canada graciously provided me with an advanced reading copy of the translated edition and I must apologize to them for not writing a review of it in a timely fashion.  Life and work do often get in the way of hobbies.

Felix J. Palma was inspired to write this novel when he re-read The Time Machine by one of his favourite writers, H.G. Wells, and so great was his inspiration that he made Wells a character in The Map of Time, along with authors Bram Stoker and Henry James.  He set the story in 19th century Victorian London (at the time the largest city on earth) beginning with the horrific reign of Jack the Ripper who is also a character, and also included an interlude with Joseph (a.k.a. John) Merrick, the Elephant Man.  This is one of the main reasons why I found the book so intriguing.  It is set during a time in history that I find very interesting as so much new technology was being born during the Industrial Revolution and some of the greatest scientific thinkers of all time were inventing their greatest and most life-changing inventions.

Palma managed to get into the head of H.G. Wells and wrote a multi-dimensional character in him that rings entirely true within the context of a fictional story that deals with love, predestination, greed, jealousy and revenge, and also speaks to the very nature of time.

The Map of Time is presented by a narrator (who I envision as a man not unlike the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show) who speaks directly to the reader and makes an appearance from time to time, including at the beginning of each part of the novel (of which there are three), to do a little narrative juggling and make sure that we understand the author’s intentions for his storyline.

The story begins with the introduction of young noble Andrew Harrington who is still reeling, eight years later, from the murder of his beloved prostitute girlfriend Marie Kelly, at the hands of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel.  Andrew wants to die but his cousin Charles decides he must intervene and give Andrew a reason to keep living.  Charles gives Andrew a copy of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells which he doesn’t read and then later introduces him to the sinister Gilliam Murray, the creator of Murray’s Time Travel, a business that has become a hit with London’s upper class as it professes to transport its patrons to the year 2000 where they can watch a re-enactment of the cataclysmic battle between the brave Captain Derek Shackleton and the evil automaton Solomon that has taken over the world.  Charles is convinced that if he can get Murray to send Andrew back in time to the exact night of his beloved’s murder that he will be able to prevent Jack the Ripper from killing her.

Murray deflates the Harringtons’ balloons by explaining that his time machine can only travel to the year 2000 and he cannot help them.  So Charles decides to seek out H.G. Wells, who must have invented a time machine that could travel to any year, to see if he can.

Part Two introduces Claire Haggerty, a young woman of means who yearns for love and adventure and who is not content with her lot in life, but rather wishes that she was born in another era.  Claire and her friend Lucy have decided to take Murray’s Time Travel trip and while Claire is in the year 2000, she accidentally meets the forbidden Captain Derek Shackleton who she falls in love with at first sight.  This, of course, causes serious problems for both of them.

In Part Three, Inspector Colin Garrett of Scotland Yard (imagine Johnny Depp’s character in Sleepy Hollow) battles with his weak stomach to try to find the killer of a corpse found in Marylebone – a corpse which just happens to sport a ghastly wound that could have only been inflicted by the weapon he had seen Captain Derek Shackleton wielding in the year 2000 during his visit there.

The “Map of Time” ponders the ways our minds can create our own truths, denying what we don’t want to know or see, believing what we most wish to be true. And by making Wells the fulcrum, the book also becomes a wonderful meta-fiction, commenting on the act of writing itself, and how fiction can shape and alter our lives. ~ Sarah Willis

This is extremely satisfying storytelling even though it does go on a bit in places (the novel is over 600 pages).  Palma deftly weaves the tales of all of his remarkable characters in a seamless plot line that will keep you turning page after page long into the night when you should have turned out the lights.  Palma’s writing is so good that H.G. Wells, himself, would have been proud.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Book Review
Title: The Taker
Author: Alma Katsu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Release: September 6, 2011
Pages: 440 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-9705-9
Stars: 3.5

I have to start by apologizing to the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster Canada who sent me an advanced reader’s copy of the supernatural, heartbreaking romance, The Taker by Alma Katsu, back in April of this year.  I thought for sure I would have it read and reviewed before now and I’ve actually read two books before this one that I still haven’t written reviews for because I’ve been so busy.  So while the story is still fresh in my mind, I will share my thoughts with you.

This story begins in the fictional small town of modern day St. Andrew, Maine.  A divorced and lonely surgeon named Dr. Luke Findley finds himself captivated by an extraordinary young woman who has been suspected of murdering an otherworldly beautiful young man, leaving his body to freeze in the woods.  She pleads with him to help her escape the authorities and after grabbing a scalpel in the hospital and slicing herself open – only to have the wound immediately knit together before Luke’s eyes – he knows he’s seeing something that must remain a secret and feels compelled to protect her at all costs.  Later we realize that Luke has nothing to lose.

The Taker is Alma Katsu’s debut novel and while it is certainly a page turner, it is so filled with melancholy that it leaves you feeling that way when you’re finished reading it.  The main character has been living for over 200 years and while she is tragically flawed she cannot find any joy in her immortality whatsoever. Throughout the story, Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae, who is not a vampire, is subjected to almost every kind of pain, suffering and human degradation you can think of and we empathize with her but she is never able to find any pleasure in any of her actions or her sins.  I could imagine her voice as being soft, low and monotonous; her visage pretty, but hard and grim.

Lanore’s life is one of eternal unrequited love and betrayal that begins when she is a child in Maine Territory in 1809.  While she is on the run with Luke she tells him everything about her life up to the moment when they met so the novel morphs back and forth between history and present day.  This format works seamlessly and Katsu’s descriptions of 19th century Maine and Boston are excellent and well-researched.

The love of Lanore’s life is the unforgettably tall, dark and dazzling Jonathan St. Andrew, her best friend, who left almost every female who set eyes on him lovesick with lust and the desire to possess him.  As he grew from a boy of twelve to a young man in his 20s, Jonathan became the most gorgeous man anyone in the northeastern US had ever seen.  Unfortunately, he was also unable to remain faithful to any woman, not even his wife.

When Lanny, as Jonathan called her, becomes pregnant at 20 with his illegitimate child, her strict, puritanical father sends her away to Boston to have the baby in a convent but she decides before she gets there that she won’t let anyone take the baby away from her and escapes her charge to wander aimlessly through the streets of Boston alone.

It is then that the naïve girl meets part of the evil entourage of Adair, the Count cel Rau from Romania, who take her back to his mansion under the guise of inviting her along to a fancy party where she will have plenty to eat and drink.  She’s never seen anything so luxurious before and is overwhelmed by the temptations set before her.

Adair and his immortal minions, Donatello, Tilde, Alejandro and Uzra, live a life of complete debauchery and bacchanalia and that night he drugs and rapes Lanore without realizing that she’s pregnant.  This is the beginning of the end of her mortal life and her journey towards redemption.

As I don’t want to give away the specifics of Lanore’s catastrophic adventures with the malevolent Adair, which are as hideously mesmerizing as a train wreck, I’ll simply say that this is a story for adults.  This is no TwilightThe Taker borders on historical S&M erotica and horrific scenes are described in graphic detail.  Katsu’s writing is exceptionally good and Lanore, Jonathan and Adair are gripping characters who will leave most lovers of paranormal tales enthralled.  The secondary characters in Adair’s subplot are also interesting.  However, in comparison, Luke seems lackluster even though he serves an important purpose.

After such a tumultuous ride, I was disappointed in the sedate ending of The Taker.  However, for a debut novel, this is an above average read, and I would not hesitate to read more from Alma Katsu.