Recommended Reads


Thanks to Jerry Lynn, Kathy and Roy for the new reviews!

I've not read any statistics but I'm sure we are one of the last generations to grow up 'reading' rather than 'surfing' as a pastime. Truth be told I too have become a surfer though I'll never give up my love of a good book. I know there are lots of us, as Kathy, Eleanor and our old friend Winki have an informal book referral system...if you read a good book then refer it to the others. That's what I would like to start here.

I belong to a book club in Cabo San Lucas. I enjoy it for a number of reasons: I'm forced to read books I wouldn't otherwise contemplate, I'm forced to actually think about both the author and the content, and I'm forced (willingly) to meet lots of people I wouldn't normally. There are some 20 American women and 5 or 6 of 'us' at each gathering and I think the 'us' rather dominate the discussion. Why is that? Certainly worth investigation don't you think.

And so I thought setting up a book referral here would be a great idea. I'll start it off with a few of the best books I've read in the last few months and ask you to send me your recommendations and I'll put them up for others to view. I usually rate my books so you see a 1-10 rating here. Don't be shy. If you like a children's book then tell us about it. My husband Daniel just bought the new 'The Winds in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame, and its wonderful.

I'll also start a STINKERS LIST so you can post those that you think are a waste of time. I don't usually finish them but give them a fair shake, until my better judgement says....waste of time!

From Jerry-Lynn
I am hosting my book club in April with the book "The Winter Vault" by Anne Michaels, Canadian author of "Fugitive Pieces." In light of what is happening in Egypt and Libya it is interesting as it is set in Egypt at the time of the building of the Aswan Dam. The main character was also involved with relocating people for the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Really it is a novel about loss on many levels, and the author reflects on this theme in a very poetic way. I loved the book, and would highly recommend it.

Another read I really related to was "The View from Castle Rock" by Alice Munro. It follows her family's journey from the barren highlands of Scotland to settle in Ontario, and it gave me a sometimes sobering, but very real glimpse into the lives of my Scottish ancestors, and especially my Scottish ancestor-in-laws! I often feel that their ghosts are very much alive in the house I now live in, (in a good way...) which they built in 1908. I am thankful for the heritage they left to us and now, our boys!
From Roy 
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
“Two Years Before the Mast” was written by an educated man experiencing the hard life of a common sailor in the early 1800’s.  This book’s turn of phrase and Dana’s vivid descriptions of everyday detail paint wonderful, and historically accurate, scenes throughout the book.  For those of you who have spent some time on the Mexican / Californian coast, it’s an especially interesting glimpse into the roots of now famous locations all the way up to the San Francisco Bay area.
A short excerpt from the beginning of the book -
The change from the tight frock-coat, silk cap, and kid gloves of an undergraduate at Harvard, to the loose duck trousers, checked shirt, and tarpaulin hat of a sailor, though somewhat of a transformation, was soon made; and I supposed that I should pass very well for a Jack tar. But it is impossible to deceive the practised eye in these matters; and while I thought myself to be looking as salt as Neptune himself, I was, no doubt, known for a landsman by everyone on board as soon as I hove in sight. A sailor has a peculiar cut to his clothes, and a way of wearing them which a green hand can never get.
And a bit more description from Wikipedia -
While an undergraduate at Harvard College, Dana had an attack of the measles which affected his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, Dana left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn on the brig Pilgrim. He returned to Massachusetts two years later aboard the Alert (which left California sooner than the Pilgrim). He kept a diary throughout the voyage, and, after returning, he wrote a recognized American classic, Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840, the same year of his admission to the bar.
The term "before the mast" refers to the quarters of the common sailors — in the forecastle, in the front of the ship. His writing evidences his later sympathy with the lower classes; he later became a prominent anti-slavery activist and helped found the Free Soil Party. Dana did not set out to write Two Years Before the Mast as a sea adventure, but to highlight how poorly common sailors were treated on ships. It quickly became a best seller.
In 1869, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. published a new edition which removed some content from the original and added an appendix entitled "Twenty-Four Years After". This appendix recounts his visit to California after the Gold Rush. During this trip, he revisited some of the sites mentioned in the book as well as seeing old friends

From Kathy

The Secret Scripture by Sebastion Barry - A 100 year old woman in an asylum in Ireland keeps a hidden record of her life story as she remembers it. At the same time the resident psychiatrist is researching why she was admitted as the asylum is being closed and he has to determine where the residents should be placed. I wasn't familiar with all of the Irish political events referred to but it was a good story with interesting twists. Rates 7 out of 10.
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert - A sad but moving story of a Hawaiian girl who was sent to a leper colony on the island of Molokai. It is a love story, a history lesson, and a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. Rates 9 out of 10.
Aztec by Gary Jennings - You need a strong constitution to get through parts of this book but it is quite extraordinary. It is the story of the Aztec civilization as told by one of the old Aztec natives to the Spaniards after their colonization. It is his life story, very gruesome in its detail but worth the effort
if you can get through it. Rates 8 out of 10.

From Sandra

ROOM by Emma Donoghue : 8

Perhaps I missed something. Perhaps I didn't. I actually didn't hear about this book until after I read it and was amazed at the publicity and controversy that surrounded it subsequntly. I liked the book but wasn't enthralled or outraged by the subject. It's a novel, not life and even though it could be (and in fact has been) I found it a 'pleasant' read, but certainly not worthy of the awards being discussed. Your opinion?

ROOM is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant  : 10

This is the story of little-known Biblical character, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and his wife, Leah. In Chapter 34 of the Book of Genesis, Dinah's tale is a short, horrific detour in the familiar narrative of her brothers Jacob and Joseph. It is told from the perspective of the women of the Bible and reveals life as it was, both the warmth and the wisdom as well as the sorrow and danger. The 'red tent' refers to the only place and time that women are permitted to exit the routine of daily demands; at times of birth, illness and monthly cycles. It is where the women talk, learn and pray to their own gods.

I recently hosted a Cabo book club meeting with this book as the centrepiece. I wanted to do something different so started with an audio selection form THE VINYL CAFE about book clubs (a real hit with the Americans and Canadians alike) and then a presentation on the history of menstruation including an audio excerpt from a CBC IDEAS program entitled 'The Curse". Another woman spoke about the history of coming of age for women in the Jewish faith. It was fantastic. I learned so much. So even if the book failed to meet expectation (for some) the book club meeting did not. Books can do so much more than offer words.

The Help by Kathyrn Stockett  : 10 !                                 

I related to this book because of the time period but loved it because of the characters. The protaganist is a woman who has grown up in the troubled 50s and 60s of the deep south. Her experiences aren't 'ours' but her deeply felt alienation might resonate with some. Twenty-two year old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree in journalism, but it is 1962 Mississippi and she can't find a job other than as a secretary. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
Equally as important to the story is the black maid Aibileen, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son and her discontent bubbles up as the weather heats up.
Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job.
Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed. Perhaps thats why I felt so caught up in the morale of the book. GREAT READ.
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill: 10
The book club I referred to has this book on it's list for the winter season. I read it last year and it took me some time to realize it was called "Someone Knows My Name" in the US. It's written by Lawrence Hill, a Canadian, but when he went to sell it in the US he had to change the name. Politically correct or marketing strategy or both?
Aminata is the main character, a small girl stolen from an African village and shipped to America. She is forced to record the negroes being 'stored' in ships bound for the new world but through strength of character and guile wins both her freedom and self esteem. A lengthy but lovely read.
Also recommended:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: Helen Simonson: a good Brit story, not at all what you would expect from the title. A love story of good quality. Major Pettigrew is my hero. 8
Mistress of Nothing: Kate Pullinger: must have been my winter of British discontent. Set in turn-of-the-century England and Egypt. A fascinating read told from the perspective of a 'lady' and her 'maid-servant'. 8

I probably have others but will list here just two you shouldn't contemplate. I don't read 'thrillers or mysteries' except when I've had it with being literary. But do enjoy a good romp if presented. Here then are my STINKERS.

Elvis Live At Nine: I had to read this for the book club. I hate rambling sudo fantasy claptrap. Starts ok but works up to not. Give it a pass. 3

Hangman: Fay Kellerman: Amazon have my 'cookie' and every so often I get sucked in. And yes, I'm a sucker for a good thriller but not this one. Or others like it. Gratuitous mayhem and no story line. A waste of time. 3

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN. Send me your contribution today.