Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Books I've Read: Another Life


This book looked interesting when I saw it at the library, so I picked it up.  

It's set over one summer in a small upstate-New York town and follows a loosely linked group of protagonists through this period.

There's Laura, a fifteen-year-old girl trying to figure out who she is.  Her best friend, Bethany, is suddenly infatuated with a girl who hangs out with a different crowd and Laura feels left out.  More and more she turns to the guy she's been talking to on a dating site online after setting up a fake profile as a joke.  As things between her and Bethany become more and more strained, this relationship becomes the most important thing in Laura's life, never mind the person Paul thinks he's talking to is not fifteen-year-old Laura.

April is Laura's mother, a divorced math teacher who spends her summer running the church Bible camp.  More and more dissatisfied with her life and her choices, she falls into a reckless affair with a much younger man and finds herself enjoying herself for the first time in years.

Paul used to be the home-town hero.  A local rock star, he left after high school to hit the big time in New York.  Now he's back, having failed to make his dream come true.  He spends his days in his childhood bedroom at his mother's house, and his nights driving aimlessly around town.  When his mother gets him a job as the sound operator at church, his path crosses April's and for the first time he sees her as something other than his high school math teacher.

Finally there's Ben, a thirteen-year-old kid at the church Bible camp.  He's hopelessly in love with Bethany, but will never tell her.  He's struggling to figure out how to relate to his new foster brother, a sullen Black kid called De Shawn.  And why does De Shawn get the attention from Bethany he so desperately wants?

I really enjoyed this book at first.  The characters were interesting with their different wants and desires and the small town setting gave a real sense of claustrophobia.  It was interesting to get to know each individual and figure out how they fitted into the world of the story, how the connections would form between them all.

Unfortunately, it kind of petered out at the end and only two of the characters really got any resolution.  And they weren't the characters I was the most interested in.  I guess this leaves things open for a sequel, but I would have liked to have seen all four stories come to some kind of conclusion.  I left the book feeling somewhat gyped by not getting this.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Vacation Bible School got a little out of hand this year.

Laura: a teenage girl struggling to fit into her small, sleepy town in upstate New York, slowly drifting away from reality and into the secret life she inhabits online. Paul: a twentysomething wannabe rock star, back home from New York City, broke and jobless, living with his mother. April: a math teacher with two kids, running her church’s Vacation Bible School, discontent with another summer planning crafts and regurgitating verses. Ben: a boy stuck at VBS, still adjusting to the presence of his foster brother, DeShawn, a quiet, brooding kid from Brooklyn.

Over the course of one summer, these characters’ paths will collide in surprising, often hilarious ways. Encompassing questions of identity, religion, race, and family, Another Life is an absorbing and thought-provoking debut about the line we all walk between desire and responsibility.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Weekly Goals 27-9-21

 My main goal for this week is to start riding my bike to work again.  Unfortunately it's absolutely hosing down with rain right now, so I don't think I'll be doing that today...

Other than that, I don't have a lot of goals.  I'm working on a beta read for a friend which I'd like to get done by the end of the week.

But that's about it...  Not that exciting, right?  On day I'll have some real goals again...  Maybe.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 24-9-21

It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?


It's been a very long and busy week and I'm exhausted.  Looking forward to a quiet(ish) weekend.  The weather doesn't look like it's going to be that great, so I hope to get lots of house stuff done as well as doing a big chunk of a beta read for a friend.  And some cooking.  

I have a few ideas of things I want to try out, and the weekend is the perfect time to do that.  I found a recipe for simple cronuts that I thought I might try, and a no-knead bread which intrigues me too.  Not that I mind kneading.  I actually quite like it.  But it's interesting because kneading smooths the dough and breaks down the gluten in the flour, so I'm not sure what no-knead bread might be like.  Coarser in the crumb, maybe?  I guess I'll find out! 

Daylight saving starts on Sunday, so I lose an hour of sleep.  Definitely not thrilled about that, but looking forward to being able to ride my bike to and from work again.  I'm getting my bike serviced next week which will be great.  Not sure if I'll ride before then, but I guess that will depend on the weather too.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Books I've Loved: The Sweet Hereafter


You know how everyone always says the book is better than the movie?  Well, this is one of the rare cases where I feel like the movie is better than the book.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love this book and Russell Banks is one of my all-time favourite authors, but there are layers in the film that elevate it above the source material.  Kind of the way Frank Darabont elevated Stephen King  in both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

Anyway...  I re-read this book last week while I waited for the library to reopen after lockdown.

It's the story of a school bus accident in a small town in upstate New York and how the community is devastated by the loss of so many of its children.  There are four different points of view telling the story - the driver of the bus, the father of two kids who were killed, the lawyer who is trying to get the townsfolk to band together for a law suit and one of the few survivors of the crash, a young girl now confined to a wheelchair.

These different perspectives highlight not just the varied views of the actual crash and what happened, but the way the townsfolk respond to it.  The bus driver is a local woman, well liked and much admired.  No one knows how to speak to her after the accident.  Everyone knows that she was not really responsible for the crash, yet they can't look at her or speak to her, knowing that she is responsible for their grief.

The lawyer has his own reasons for so fiercely pursuing the case.  His own daughter isn't dead, but is just as lost to him as any of the children who drowned in the frozen pond.  He would never admit it, but fighting for justice for these kids makes him feel better about being unable to help his own child.

The father was driving behind the bus and watched it crash with his twins in the back.  Recently widowed and struggling with a drinking problem that is just on the verge of becoming a real problem, he has been indulging in an illicit affair with a local woman who, with her husband, runs a struggling motel.  Following the crash and the loss of their children, they discover how little they really have in common and their relationship fizzled out, leaving Billy with nothing but his grief and a bottle.

Nichole, one of the few children to survive the crash, comes home to a family and a hometown she no longer recognises.  For years she has been harbouring a dirty secret about her father, a secret that festers within her.  When she is asked to talk to the lawyers about what she saw he day of the accident, she realizes that, for the first time, she holds the power and uses it to hurt her father as gravely as he ever hurt her.  

This is a beautiful and very sad story that asks some serious questions about what a community is, and what it should do when the very worst thing you can imagine happens.  As I mentioned, I think the film (by Canadian/Armenian director Atom Egoyan) is better than the book - more layered, more beautiful - but the book does give more depth to a couple of the character points of view, especially Nichole's and Billy's.

I would certainly recommend this one, but more so, another of Bank's books that references this one, The Rule of the Bone. In that one, the characters wind up living in the wrecked bus that was pulled from the pond for a while...I love little things like that and often try to drop them into my own books.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

When fourteen children from the small town of Sam Dent are lost in a tragic accident, its citizens are confronted with one of life’s most difficult and disturbing questions: When the worst happens, whom do you blame, and how do you cope? Masterfully written, it is a large-hearted novel that brings to life a cast of unforgettable small-town characters and illuminates the mysteries and realities of love as well as grief.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Weekly Goals 20-9-21

I'm not entirely sure why I still do this weekly goals post.  I'm still not writing, so I don't have any writing goals.  I keep expecting a story idea to attack me and demand to be told, but so far, there hasn't been anything like that.  I have read through a lot of my unfinished and almost-finished novels and keep waiting for some inspiration to strike, but again.... nothing.

Maybe one day it will come back.  Maybe not.  This is certainly the longest I've ever gone without writing anything new.  I keep hoping something might come before November so I can do NaNo.  But I'm not going to sign up if I don't have a story I need to tell.  I'm not wasting my precious holiday days to write if there's nothing there to write.

So instead my goal this week is to book my bike in for a service. Daylight savings starts next weekend so I'll be able to ride to work again from next week, but my bike is in desperate need of some professional attention.

What are your goals this week?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Celebrate the Small Things 17-9-21


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

My older son's birthday and finding it hard to believe he's 17!  How did that happen?

It's the weekend and my partner is working right through it so I will have the house, at least the parts that aren't the kids' rooms, to myself.  Which will be nice.

The gym has re-opened, so I will attempt to do a weights class for the first time in weeks.  I imagine it's going to hurt.

A group of friends have plans to go to an art exhibition, but we're not sure exactly what the rules might be around that at this stage, so I'm not entirely sure we will be going.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Books I've Loved: The Way the Crow Flies


I finished all my library books the first weekend of our latest lockdown and was forced to trawl my bookshelves at home for things to read.  Since the same thing happened during last year's lockdown, I found there wasn't much there I hadn't read recently.  

Then I came upon this book and decided to give it a whirl.

Basically it is a family saga spanning twenty-years in the McCarthy family.  But at the same time it's a mystery and a thoughtful examination of Canada's part in the Cold War.

The McCarthys are an Air Force family.  The book opens as they are driving to the Air Force base in the middle of nowhere that will be their new home after their most recent posting in Germany.  Father, Jack, is excited to be returning to Centralia where he did his training.  He has happy memories of the base, despite it being the site of the plane crash that scuppered his flying career just as the War was ramping up.

The living quarters at Centralia create a picture-perfect suburbia.  There is ample space for the kids to play, but they are rarely out of sight from one or more attentive mother.  It doesn't take long for Madeline, the younger of the McCarthy's two children, to make friends within the community.

Wife, Mimi, beautiful, exotic and still very much in love with her husband, Jack, is so used to re-settling, it takes no time at all to get the house looking and feeling like a home.  She quickly befriends the other wives and is easily accepted into their social groups.

Jack has a little more trouble settling in.  He has things on his mind.  Secret things.  He has been asked by an old acquaintance to be part of a top secret mission.  Initially, it doesn't seem hard, but as the demands on him become greater, he finds himself in the difficult position of having to lie to his wife to protect his secrets.

And when a local girl, a girl in his beloved Madeline's class, is murdered, he finds himself in a position where his loyalties are torn.  Unable to reconcile the secret with the public and his own role in the events spiraling out of control, he gives his daughter advice that will echo through the next twenty years of  their lives.

I loved this book.  The Cold War setting gave even the most idyllic moments a sense of disquiet and unease.  Madeline is a very real child, dealing with questions and moral ambiguity beyond her ability to understand.  The supporting characters are also really well drawn, particularly the slightly odd German neighbors who Jack quickly befriends.

It is a long book, and I feel like there are definitely parts that could have been edited down, or cut out, but it is very enjoyable and will keep you guessing right until the very last pages.

Definitely recommended!

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

The optimism of the early sixties, infused with the excitement of the space race and the menace of the Cold War, is filtered through the rich imagination of high-spirited, eight-year-old Madeleine, who welcomes her family's posting to a quiet Air Force base near the Canadian border. Secure in the love of her beautiful mother, she is unaware that her father, Jack, is caught up in a web of secrets. When a very local murder intersects with global forces, Jack must decide where his loyalties lie, and Madeleine will be forced to learn a lesson about the ambiguity of human morality -- one she will only begin to understand when she carries her quest for the truth, and the killer, into adulthood twenty years later.