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Muriellerites

Muriellerites

Reading has always been my lifeline from early childhood. Writing helps me try to make sense of the world . I watch and listen to the animals and plants around me to find the connections that bind us all.

Review
5 Stars
Review: Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris
Songs in Ordinary Time - Mary McGarry Morris

 

Songs in Ordinary Time, by Mary McGarry Morris, is a novel set in the small village of Atkinson, Vermont in the early 1960’s. It’s the end of the school year when expectations are high, and people figure the summer will never end.There’s a definite struggle in the village to hang on to the complacency of an earlier age, but the young are headed for a different direction. A tumultuous social upheaval is on the horizon while Marie Fermoyle, a divorced single mother, tries to put bread on the table for her three children, and to teach them to be strong, to never give up—no matter what. She never does, weathering through the constant humiliations of her ex-husband’s alcoholic blunders, her teenagers’ brash behaviour, and to upkeep the almost hovel condition of her house. She screams, she rants, she bullies, but walks proud and repels anybody who wants to butt into her affairs.

Until … Omar Duvall, a thief and murderer, enters her life and tears down the walls of her loneliness.

This is a long read (740 pages), but a page-turner which will leave you wondering how these weird, but loveable, characters are doing long after you finish the book. This is a masterful rendition of the human condition, each character’s worst fears and fondest hope captured in their own personal song. Their songs might be sad and depressing, but woven together become a chant of hope and survival.

Review
4 Stars
Review:ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr’s historical novel, All the Light We Cannot See, tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father on the eve of WWII, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan boy who has a passion for technology. The two live miles apart and are on opposite sides of the war but they share an internal conflict: how to remain true to yourself amidst the terror and indignity of war. Werner’s small stature makes him a misfit and an easy target for the Nazi youths trained to destroy anyone showing signs of weakness. His keenness to see the scientific connections to all things and his creativity are the keys to his survival. It is Marie-Laure’s love of books that will enable her to discover the inner courage that will help her transcend her handicap. Their sense of justice and adherence to morality (the light we cannot see) will guide them through the ugliness of war.

The story starts in 1944 and spans about 80 years with short chapters that go back and forth between Werner and Marie-Laure’s POV—though not always in a chronological order. The writing is well crafted and at times lyrical, but a few scenes could’ve been eliminated without harming the plot at all. A must read!

Review
3 Stars
Review: THE SIGHT OF THE STARS by Belva Plain
The Sight of the Stars - Belva Plain

Belva Plain's novel, The Sight of the Stars, takes place in a small Texas town in the early 1900's.Young and determined to make his own way in life, Adam Arnring gets off the train and within a few hours has landed as a job as manager of a run down store owned by a no-nonsense widow. Through hard work and lots of creativity, Adam transforms the store into a flourishing establishment. Along comes the owner's daughter, the aloof Emma, and he is mesmerized.
This is a family story that spans a few generations and encompasses the classical emotions of love, betrayal, envy, compassion and intolerance. Time is seen as dominant force through out the novel erasing past worries and pain. There is an urgency to put things right before it's too late.
       'Time hurries by. New green leaves sprout; a season has passed when they brown              and fall; all of a sudden, it is another year.'
The time span of the novel, and the number of different characters who come in with each new generation make it difficult as a reader to become intimate with any of them--some disappear and are vaguely referred to further on in the story. An interesting historical read.

Review
3 Stars
Review: BRICK LANE by Monica Ali
Brick Lane - Monica Ali

Monica Ali's novel, Brick Lane, is based on the story of Nazeen, a sixteen-year old Bangladeshi woman who is married off to a man more than twice her age. They live in a poor immigrant sector of London where her husband Chanu has already established himself. Almost imprisoned in their small flat, she spends her lonely hours staring from her window at a fat woman full of tattoos who sits on her balcony all day smoking and drinking beer. When Chanu gets home from work, she switches to her domestic roll of cooking his meals, trimming his corns, and cutting his nose hair. The tumultuous London world she finds is a far cry from the passive country life she left in Bangladesh, but bit by bit she ventures out on the streets to mix with the other immigrant women.
The story spans about fifteen years where we see her become more self-reliant as a mother and a worker in the clothes trade. Letters from her sister back home make up a good part of the novel, but sometimes upstage the flow of the story.
This is an interesting view of the immigrant woman's experience and her journey of self discovery.

Review
3 Stars
Review: WHEN THE LION FEEDS by Wilbur Smith
When the Lion Feeds - Wilbur Smith

When the Lion Feeds, Wilbur Smith 's first book in his Courtney series, takes place in South Africa during the times of the Zulu wars. The story is based on Sean Courtney's journey from his family's farm which he leaves to his alcoholic twin brother Gary and his pregnant young wife. He strikes it rich in the Witwatersand Gold Rush only to lose everything to a conniving competitor. His next venture is living in the wilderness hunting elephants for their ivory--a part of his life where he suffers the most emotionally.
The issues in this book don't make this an easy read: the senseless killing of elephants, the massacre and enslavement (referred to as 'servants') of the Zulu people, the belittled role of women--but it is after all, a historic presentation of the growth of Africa.
The novel ends on a sad note, but apparently picks up with the reunion with his twin brother in the next book. A good read for those who have an interest in Africa's history, but a caution of graphic violence to lovers of animals.

Review
3 Stars
Review: THE TOWERS of TUSCANY by CAROL M CRAM
The Towers of Tuscany - Carol M. Cram

Carol M. Cram’s historical novel, The Towers of Tuscany, immerses her readers in an engrossing account of Italy’s medieval period in the 14th century. The main character, Sophia, is a talented painter who defies the rules of the land by disguising herself as a man in order to live out her artistic passion. Painting is taboo for women but she refuses to relinquish her dream. Besides the abundance of historical detail, the reader is privy to great description about the art of painting of the times.

Sophia’s way of thinking has been nurtured by her beloved father’s controlling nature, and she constantly refers to his teachings throughout the novel. Being under her father’s thumb has blocked her from emotional growth and she repeated takes decisions that have a negative impact on her and those around her. There is no character arc for Sophia—she remains stunted within the boundaries of her art.

As a reader I felt pretty jolted with the last part of the novel where the time period jumps a few hundred years and a brand new character is introduced.

Review
3 Stars
Review: THE BAKER'S DAUGHTER by SARAH McCOY
The Baker's Daughter - Sarah McCoy

In Sarah McCoy’s novel, The Baker's Daughter, you'll find lots of historical data about the daily lives and fears of German women living during. You'll also get an insight in how to operate a bakery when flour and sugar are almost nonexistent and only doled out by Nazi operators. Women are a commodity controlled by Nazi dogma and the fear of being punished by the ruling military. Elsie is a young girl working in her father's bakery when an SS officer twice her age invites her to a Nazi party. A young Jewish boy comes to her rescue when another officer tries to assault her. Her sister Hazel is proud to support the Nazi regime by producing Aryan babies for the program. Her life takes an abrupt turn when one of her children is considered not worthy.

The story switches POV back and forth with Elsie in WW2 Germany, and then to Reba 60 years later in America. The more modern story deals with Reba’s concerns about her boyfriend and her job as a journalist. This type of writing device is difficult to pull off when the reader bonds with one character and not the other—as was my case.

Regardless of the structural difficulties, this is a poignant look at women’s roles in wartime Germany. The pastry recipes in the back of the novel are an added bonus.

Review
4 Stars
Review: SONG OF SOLOMON by TONI MORRISON
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon deals with the African-American world of the early 1960’s. Milkman Dead is the first black baby to be born in Mercy Hospital. Pampered by the women in his family and his father, a slum landlord who thinks only of his wealth, he leaves home at 32 to find a buried treasure believed to belong to his grandfather. Instead, he finds himself immersed in a quest for self-discovery as he uncovers the secrets of his family history.

The story touches on several themes, the central one being racism and how it’s damage can continue to affect generations to come. The inequality existing between men and women is also a major theme. Wild and unusual behaviour in men is considered almost heroic while the same behaviour in women is seen as weak and abnormal.

The characters are well portrayed although I found Guitar too alienated from reality to be likeable—perhaps to present racism as being denatured no matter what side it sits on. I found the ending a little too quick and perhaps unfair, but that also could have something to do with the gratuitous violence associated with the main theme.

Review
5 Stars
Review: LUDWIKA, a POLISH WOMAN'S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE IN NAZI GERMANY by CHRISTOPH FISCHER
Ludwika: A Polish Woman's Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany - Christoph Fischer, David Lawlor

In this World War II novel, Ludwika Gierz, a young beautiful Polish woman, suffers the loss of all the men in her life. She is still in mourning of her brother, Franz, who has drowned two years earlier when her father goes missing in action in the beginning of the war. Her mother, her sister Stacia and her young daughter Irena are left to fend for themselves on the farm while the German invaders force their neighbours off their land. Manfred, a handsome SS German officer, falls in love with Ludwika and the family is allowed the special privilege of remaining in their own home on condition that she accompany him to Germany. She is forced to leave her family behind but she believes her sacrifice will guarantee their safety. Her decision begins her horrific journey of pain and suffering as she lives first hand the humiliation of being a young innocent woman at the mercy of cruel oppressors.

Christopher Fischer's historical novel, Ludwika: a Polish Woman's Struggle to Survive in Nazi Germany, is a riveting page-turner that presents human drama at its best.

 

 

 

Review
5 Stars
Review: THE DOLAN GIRLS by S.R. MALLERY
The Dolan Girls - S.R. Mallery
  1. R. Mallery’s historical western, The Dolan Girls, gives us a colourful view of America’s wild west of the 1800’s. It was a time when cowboys and bandits were free to roam the countryside, women slept with a gun at a moment’s reach, and everyone lived by the motto ‘expect the unexpected’. Brothels and saloons were a necessary fixture in the unchartered towns, and Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley revered icons.

The characters are endearing—Minnie being my favourite—and the action is fast paced. This is a highly enjoyable read. Looking forward to more from this talented writer.

Review
4 Stars
Review: CHIKARA by ROBERT SKIMIN
Chikara - Robert Skimin

Robert Skimin’s historical novel, Chikara, is an epic family drama of the two great countries, America and Japan. It spans from 1905 through the 1980’s and covers the early American racism against the Japanese settlers of California, the anti-American sentiment in t Japan, the forced resettlement of Japanese people in American war camps, the bombing of Pearl Harbour as well of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. These historical events shape the characters’ dreams and ambitions, their lives and their spirit.

Sataro of the House of Hoshi, driven by his ancient samurai blood, has left his beloved Japan to seek his dream of power in America. His descendants will suffer the aftermath of his vision and as they too try to forge their own newer dream.

This a story that pays tribute to the Japanese Americans who persevered in the face of racism and established their cultural communities with hard work, honour and patience. Highly recommended historical reading!

Review
4 Stars
Review: BRIDE OF NEW FRANCE by SUZANNE DESROCHERS
Bride of New France - Suzanne Desrochers

Bride of New France, Suzanne Durocher’s’ debut historical novel introduces us to the famous Filles du Roi, sent over to populate the French settlements along the St-Lawrence River of Canada in the late 1600’s. These women, either orphans, the destitute, criminals or prostitutes endured a perilous journey across the Atlantic ocean to marry—not the dukes nor high officials who live in comfort within the village walls—but the fur traders who expect their imported wives to settle the land single-handed at the mercy of the weather and dangers of the neighbouring enemy. Totally unprepared for the harsh Canadian winters and hardships of farming the wilderness, they must also deal with roving husbands who are more interested in the freedom of life in the woods than meeting their domestic responsibilities.

The main character, Laure Beauséjour, must give up her dream of being a seamstress in Paris and is exiled to New France where she eventually marries an older coureur des bois who leaves her to fend for herself in a rickety shack in the dead of winter where she almost dies of starvation. Laure must learn to reach out to others in order to survive these brutal conditions.

The characters could’ve been more developed. Laure is a self-centered young woman whose decisions throughout the story effects the lives of those around her. There is no growth at the end of the story, which, by the way, is a bit quick and concise. It is, with all its ups and downs in terms of plotting and character development, a very enjoyable read and one I would highly recommend for its detailed historical depiction of early New France.

Review
4 Stars
Review: COLD MOUNTAIN by CHARLES FRAZIER

We find ourselves immersed in American history in Charles Frazier’s epic novel, Cold Mountain, where North and South face each other in a Civil War between their own countrymen. Three years after the outbreak of war, the characters are presented as disillusioned and in some way damaged emotionally, spiritually and in most cases, physically as well. Neither side is favoured since both are considered self-serving and perhaps dishonest in their motives. Although slavery is a main focus of the war, the story plot itself seems to zero in on the white’s man disregard of human dignity. Crime and cruelty, however, abound on both sides of the fence and neither southerner nor northerner captures all the blame.

This is also, maybe more so, a story about two young lovers and their quest towards self-fulfillment through loneliness and isolation. The ending was quick and unexpected and left me wondering how else to close this spiritual journey of love and self-discovery. A great read with abundant descriptions of America’s mountain country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review
4 Stars
Review: TWO SOLITUDES by HUGH MACLENNAN
Two Solitudes (New Canadian Library) - Robert Kroetsch, Hugh MacLennan

Considered to be a Canadian classic, Hugh MacLennan’s novel, Two Solitudes, deals with a historic view of Québec’s journey as a French speaking people deeply rooted in the Catholic religion and surrounded by a Protestant English speaking majority. The two solitudes reference is not restricted to a language dichotomy between the French and the English, but the story also presents the division between Catholics and Protestants, between the rich and the poor, between an arranged marriage and one based on love, between creativity and the status quo.

MacLennan’s wordy character and physical descriptions go in hand in hand with the era it was written, which in our modern standards appear a little overdone, but the characters themselves are memorable. The actual story style seems to be divided after Athanase Tallard’s death presenting still another solitude, this time being between father and son—the old and the young, the modern and the traditional.

Certainly an interesting and revealing view of the historic realities of war time Québec.

Review
4 Stars
Review: THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER by KIM EDWARDS
The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards

Kim Edwards’ captivating novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, shows how one lie told on the spur of the moment, can greatly affect the lives of those around you. Nora’s labour starts during a snowstorm and her doctor can’t make it on time for the delivery. Her husband, Dr. David Henry, with the help of his nurse, Caroline Gill, go ahead with the delivery. Nora gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, but when her labour pains start again, her sedates her to ease her pain. When he delivers the second child, a baby girl with Downs Syndrome, he instructs Caroline to bring the child right away before his wife wakes up to a home for children with special needs. He then tells his wife that the child was stillborn. This is the lie that will forever alter his marriage, his relationship with his son, the life of Caroline Gill, and the life of the baby girl he has rejected.

This is a story of deceit, of troubled relationships, and of how love and determination can overcome the intolerance faced by those with disabilities. It also brings us down memory lane when pregnant women were sedated on the delivery table and couldn’t participate in the birth of their child. A great read!

Review
4 Stars
A DANGEROUS FORTUNE by KEN FOLLETT

Ken Follett’s novel, A Dangerous Fortune, deals with a major London bank at the end of the 19th century. The story starts at an exclusive Windfield School for boys where cruelty and treachery will seal the fate of a small group of boys. The story deals with several themes, but deceit is the most prevalent. Details of the drowning of a young boy, Peter Middleton, by his fellow student at a local quarry is kept secret for several decades. The characters involved never stray too far from the incident during the next 30 years as they either try to cover up or they attempt to find out the details of what really happened.

The banking world is presented side by side with the poorer classes of society. The Prince of Wales appears at a posh party in one scene, while another scene depicts goings-on in a slummy brothel. Characters are also presented as being honest or deceitful, greedy or generous. They appeared a little stereotypical but the story was nevertheless a page-turner and a good read.