Sheltering- A Reading List and Confession?

The Stand- by Stephen King is not on the list. I am, for the most part, a King fan, and enjoy his writing. Like a well-done horror or suspense movie should, he safely scares you. But The Stand is a dystopian landscape after Captain Trip (a deadly flu) decimates the population. King throws in a little Good vs. Evil with Randall Flagg. He reminds readers that the book is not about covid 19, but it is about a pandemic. I am not going to recommend any dystopia right now.

I have read The Dutch House by Ann Prachett and Greg Iles’ Mississippi Blood, the last in his Natchez Burning trilogy. Now for the confession. There have been a number of mysteries in my list but they were an easy read and kept my mind off more serious things. There was non-fiction, too, but some of it depressing and that’s not what is needed right now. I have almost finished The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas which it very much a book I’d likely set aside, even though it won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2009. I will admit to starting some books and not finishing…I think it’s my state of mind.

Since covid, I have read a variety of books that I might have read but might not have if I’d had better access to titles I’d reserved at my public library. I finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and am now reading HP and the Deathly Hallows. My grandson read the series a year ago and I thought I should see why he so enjoyed them. Well, Harry leads an exciting life and the plot moves right along. Glad I decided to follow my grandson’s lead.

I caved and bought The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. It’s the last of her Tudor trilogy and takes concentration to read. There are so many characters, so many intrigues, and they deal with plague all the time. It’s not a major theme of the book, though, history and the character of Thomas Cromwell is. It’s fascinating how he, as a commoner, became one of the most powerful men in England and a trusted advisor to Henry V111. It’s also a total diversion from what is going on right now (at least for me). So even though in Alberta, we’re in phase one of opening up, reading is a way to keep safe and stay home.

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay

In his latest thriller, Linwood Barclay, has fashioned a protagonist who, until he stops to help a friend from work, has been leading a blameless ordinary life. He’s a college professor, not at Yale or Harvard; but still a responsible and good position. Then one night  on his way home he stops his car to help a colleague and it all goes south. His fellow professor, a known lady killer, has actually killed two women by slitting their throats. Our protagonist Paul Davis catches him trying to dispose of their bodies.

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His friend has already murdered twice and comes for Paul with the shovel he has to bury the women. Eight months later, where the novel really begins, Paul Davis is alive but in recovery from the blow to the head. He has suffered a possible brain injury and is dealing with the aftermath of the vicious attack. Nightmares plague him and although his therapist Anna White, is helpful, he has not been able to return to work.

Then he starts to hear a typewriter at night when he and his wife and asleep. His colleague had made his female victims write apologies on a typewriter before he murder them. His wife has given him an old Underwood as a gift, something for his “think tank” aka den. Odd events keep turning up and Paul is driven to create bizarre theories to explain them. At last he doubts his own sanity.

More than this, would give away the plot which has plenty of twists, turns, and red herrings. After all, that’s what makes a thriller, well, thrilling. A Noise Downstairs provides the great entertainment, I’ve come to expect from Linwood Barclay, a New York Times bestselling Canadian author.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

This is Craig Davidson’s fourth book. The other three include Rust and Bone, Cataract City and his real memoir Precious Cargo. He’s a great author and best of all, he’s Canadian.

 

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a gentle novel, part coming-of-age, part shattered life, and part haunting memoir. It explores memory and how each time an event is recalled, it changes.

Jake Breaker is a neurosurgeon. He understands the fragility of the brain and how mysterious its workings are. The summer he was twelve, Jake made a true friend and learned about his eccentric Uncle Cal. His uncle runs the Occultorium, a spiritual business full of cheap trinkets, real antiquities, and plain strange paraphernalia. Even as a kid, he knows that Uncle Cal isn’t quite “right.”

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Jake’s recounting of his twelfth summer, the summer of The Saturday Night Ghost Club, is full of suspense. There is Billy, his new friend, and Dove, Billy’s sister, dangerous and verging on true beauty. They get into scrapes, put themselves in jeopardy, and hang out with Uncle Calvin.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club is set in 1980s Niagara Falls, nicknamed Cataract City. Uncle Cal takes the Club on nocturnal journeys to its haunted locations and reveals the legend or story associated with each one. Jake finally confesses to their night time pursuits to his parents and his mother is horrified.

This novel isn’t long, a bare 248 pages but it’s 248 pages to enjoy. If you hurry, you can read it before Hallowe’en.

 

 

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

The old saw, you can`t judge a book by its cover, is proved by The Casual Vacancy. The cover is a garish red and yellow, the title, white script with a big X in the middle. The only thing going for it is J. K. Rowling. I was so put off I didn`t pick the book up until now. It was published in 2012 so it`s been out for six years.

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Pagford, England is the setting for J. K. Rowling`s first novel for adults. There is an ancient abbey, an idyllic park, and a nearby river. It is a place for people of means and of aspirations, a British microcosm. Pagford looks peaceful and attractive but under that facade, a cauldron of racial tension, suspicion, and class arrogance roils. It comes to a head when Barry Fairweather, beloved member of the Parish Council, dies suddenly of an undiagnosed aneurysm. His seat is vacant, the casual vacancy, and the local political rivalry is set in motion. Wives are set against husbands, teenagers experiment with danger, and it doesn`t end well.

There is intrigue and deceit everywhere. Characters from all walks of life play a role…

I`m sorry I waited so long to read The Casual Vacancy; it`s a good read, a bit of a page turner. I think J. K.`s publishers dropped the ball (to use a cliche) when they designed the cover. They owe her an apology…

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated is Tara Westover`s memoir of family control and ignorance and an awakening as she seeks answers and knowledge. This was a book recommended to me by a friend and neither the title or the recommendation suggested the kind of horror and abuse that Tara Westover and her family suffered.

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The Westovers are a Mormon family whose fanatic father has re-tooled the religion into his private cult. He selects snippets from the Bible or the Book of Mormon and dictates to his family how they will act and what contact with the outside world they can make. His twisted beliefs come from feelings of deep paranoia. He is sure that the government, educational institutions, and health care are in a conspiracy to harm him and his family.

In her memoir, Tara Westover, tries to patch together a childhood of fear and abuse and fierce love. Her memories are confused and like all of us, some recollections might have planted themselves as memories because other family members have recounted them so often. Nonetheless, her life story is compelling and appalling.

The rules her father makes have no logic. Dairy products are taboo, a year`s supply of food they preserve themselves, must be stockpiled so when some government Armageddon descends, they can hide in the Idaho hills and survive until the crisis passes. To this end, Tara`s father insists his wife become a midwife and healer. It makes them more self-reliant. Tara is her mother`s assistant when she isn`t helping with the family scrap business. Her father and brothers work at this except when they are trucking. The work is dangerous, hard, and performed without concern for even minimal safety standards.

Horrific injuries have to be endured and her mother struggles to provide healing. Burns, brain injuries, deep wounds seldom receive medical attention and if they do, the patient is taken home long before a proper recovery is realized.

From this chaotic, illogical environment, Tara Westover, a young woman with no formal schooling, no birth certificate, and a strange mixture of fears and beliefs, studies for and gets the marks on the ACT exam which assesses students on high school curriculum and their readiness for college. Tara is admitted to Brigham Young University of the strength of her results; she has never heard of the Holocaust, of the American Civil Rights Movement, yet somehow her hard work and quick brain make up for these omissions. She is invited to Harvard and to Cambridge in England.

Tara Westover`s story makes compelling reading. You are drawn along with the kind of urgency that a thriller or horror novel might demand. The best part of this memoir, is that there is a resolution of sorts and that against all odds, Tara has prevailed.

October- Library Month in Canada

Years and years ago, my mother would take us to the library on our weekly visits to town. We lived on a farm and got into town on a Saturday.

The library was in the old Prospect School House which had been purchased in 1951 and in 1953 opened for the express purpose of housing the library. No heating or insulation. Volunteers handed out books in gloved hands and the lack of windows, insulation, etc. were eventually looked after by money raised from bake sales and local fund raising.

Kudos to those long gone volunteers. The building may have been dingy, stale, and dark but to me it was magic. With your library card, you could wander up and down the narrow alleys between the high shelves and find a treasure to read. The Black Stallion Series, The Black Panther Series, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Mark of Zorro and so  many others that I can’t remember. This was an era without tv, one where electricity had only recently reached our farm, and the internet wasn’t even a fantasy. There was no need; the books were there and free.

Even if money had been no object, there was no bookstore in my small town. I can’t remember when I first visited a retail book shop; for a while I did buy a lot of books. When I realized I wasn’t re-reading them, I depended more and more on our local library, now part of a library system which affords me more and more choices.

Libraries have evolved. They provide many services other than the magic I found. They still provide books, magazines, e-books, newspapers (mostly on line). There is the use of computers for no charge, exam invigilation, a quiet place to study or read, a meeting place, a supplier of programs for toddlers, kids, teens, adults and seniors; all of these services are free or reasonably priced. The library is a community treasure.

Today funding comes from provincial grants, our local town council, and the municipality. Although, they are as generous as they can be, the library can always use funds. Many things are done to close the gap between the funding that keeps the library services intact (barely) and the fund-raising that tries to make budgeting slightly easier.

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This picture is typical of library supporters. They dress up, they apply for local grants, they try different schemes to fund raise.

Libraries are one of our most important resources and Canadian Library Month recognizes this.

Visit your local library! You’ll be surprised at what is on offer.

We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

From this end of my life (thank you, Stephen King), We Are Not Ourselves, resonated. Everyone, immigrant, young wife, new husband, three generations has high hopes and works hard, and yet fate intervenes.

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Eileen Tumulty looks after her drinking Irish parents, who are not just sampling the odd cocktail. They are full-on alcoholic and as dysfunctional as that implies. At last, Eileen meets Ed Leary, a research scientist. He seems like her dream man and the one who can provide her with a cosmopolitan existence she craves. Eileen wants better for herself, socially, economically, intellectually. Ed Leary could make it happen, yet once they are married he is obstinate in his refusal to seek higher-profile, better paid jobs. No matter how hard she tries, encouraging or demanding, Ed stands firm and continues in his research position, although he could be promoted or could seek a place at a more prestigious college.

Eileen takes matters into her own hands and searches out the house that might take them where she wants to be; out of her immigrant neighbourhood and into a more socially prominent area. Ed is still unhappy about a move, and Connell, their son, who has his own issues at school, agrees to move to keep his mother happy. It’s really more than they can afford. The move seems doomed.

Ed refuses to let professionals renovate and repair their new house for it is, indeed, a fixer-upper, needing a lot of attention. The new neighbours aren’t running to knock on the door and make their acquaintance. Eileen is a nurse and successful in her own career but she always wonders if she’d make a better lawyer or maybe a politician. Ed gets more stubborn and more eccentric.

The new house doesn’t give Eileen what she’s always wanted – a better life. More and darker problems arise and the novel examines how unfulfilled dreams and love intersect. How fate laughs at our expectations and plans, throwing them into disarray just for the fun of it.

Eileen has scant fun, Ed has less, and their son Connell struggles with adolescence and a family falling apart. Although, this is a bleak story in some ways, it was well worth the read and kept me totally engaged. The only disappointment was the ending but no spoilers, I’ll let you decide for yourself.