Finally – here I am with my “Books Read Summaries” for the rest of 2013. This is what happens when one lets herself get behind in recording “Books Read” on her blog, her personal & necessary record: life, and death, and more life. I won’t bore you with the details all at once, just as they occur.
So here I am in October 2013, blissfully unaware of what’s ahead, and reading, reading. Because this was almost three years ago, I won’t pretend to remember everything about these books, but I’ll tell you what I can. I’m thankful that I rated them when I read them.
The three mystery books that I read are detailed in a separate post.
1. THE DEATH OF BEES by Lisa O’Donnell (Contemporary, Scottish)
Two young girls bury their parents in the back yard and try to carry on as normal so that their parents’ assistance cheques will keep coming. The lonely widowed next-door neighbour watches them, suspects that something is amiss, and reaches out to include them in his life.
The story is told in the first person from the POV of each of the three main characters. I remember that the voices were clear and distinct. Also, the burgeoning relationship between the neighbours is credibly drawn.
Read this if: you’d like a sneak peek into the slums of modern-day Glasgow and the life of many of those who receive welfare; or if you like stories with young, resourceful protagonists. 4 stars
2. FAUNA by Alissa York (Literary, Contemporary, Canadian)
This was the 2013 pick for One Book Nova Scotia. It’s set in the Don Valley in Toronto, Ontario. The River Don runs through the heart of Canada’s biggest city, largely unnoticed by most residents, but the valley teems with wildlife activity.
Alissa Yorke imagines an auto wreckers in this ravine, with a secret sanctuary for the injured fauna of the title. All of the characters who cross paths here are recovering from or distancing themselves from a loss. Most interesting is Edal, a federal wildlife officer on stress leave, torn between reporting the illegal operation and watching the wildlife she is sworn to protect heal. There’s also a coyote-shooting fringe element, and of course, the wildlife itself.
Read this if: you are interested in the role that animals and humans play in the healing of the other; or you live in or near Toronto (or another large urban centre) and want a glimpse of the hidden world amid the concrete that is the Don Valley. 4 stars
3. BREATH by Tim Winton (Literary, Australian, 1970s setting)
Breath is set in a small fictional village in Western Australia. Childhood friends Piker and Loon grow up daring each to more and more dangerous stunts. As teenagers, they take up surfing and meet Sando, a former pro surfer who leads them to new levels of daring.
What I remember most about this book is the image of the beauty and the savagery of the west Australian coast. Winton put me on the edge of my seat, underwater with those boys.
Breath won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2009.
Read this if: you’ve forgotten the thrill of testing yourself to the limit. 4 stars
4. A FAR CRY FROM KENSINGTON by Muriel Spark (Fiction, Vintage, British)
The narrator of this book lived in a boarding house in Kensington in the 1950s and recounts the mild adventures of her fellow boarders. As usual, the narrator is a key, but that fact is obscured until the end. This makes it sound as if I didn’t like this book, but I did – a great deal. Spark is a smooth delight at any time.
Read this if: you’ve just finished a book you had to work really hard at and you need a ‘palate-cleanser’; or, obviously, you enjoy vintage English comedies. 4 stars
5. EXTRAORDINARY by David Gilmour (Fiction, Canadian, Contemporary, Literary)
Long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize for Fiction, Extraordinary became a controversial choice after comments made by the author that many saw as sexist. It was a challenge to approach this book then, without preconceived ideas about its value.
Very spare, it’s told from the viewpoint of a man asked by his sister to assist in her suicide. It’s perhaps as objective an account as can be told about this hotly debated subject.
Read this if: you’re interested in the collateral effect of the assisted death of an ill person. 4 stars
6. YOU ARE ONE OF THEM by Elliott Holt (Fiction, American)
Set during the Cold War, this story revolves around a community of young Americans living and working in Moscow.
I had a difficult time deciding on a rating of 3 or 3½ stars. In the end I came down on the side of readability.
Read this if: if you’d like a low-key spy novel. 3½ stars
7. PALISADES PARK by Alan Brennert (Fiction, Historical, American)
The real Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, saw millions of visitors in its life 1898 – 1971. It was immortalized in Freddy Cannon’s 1962 hit of the same name.
Brennert has created a novel that could well be the biography of generations of those who worked and/or owned the concessions and made the park their second home during the summer months.
Read this if: you remember having fun at Palisades Park or another large privately-owner amusement park. 3½ stars
8. EVERYTHING FLOWS by Vasily Grossman (Fiction, Historical, Russian, translated)
I would never have picked this up but for the War and Literature read along.
Translated from the Russian, this strongly autobiographical story follows Ivan Grigoryevich who returns to society from prison during the Communist regime. It’s hard for us to imagine living with the distrust of friends and family members that Russian citizens did for decades—lifetimes.
I’m glad that I read this but it did drag immensely. Perhaps life in Russia did then.
Read this if: you want the nitty-gritty of life under Communism in post-WWII Russia. 3½ stars
9. EVERYBODY HAS EVERYTHING by Katrina Onstad (Fiction, Contemporary, Canadian)
From Amazon: “After a car crash leaves their friend Marcus dead and his wife Sarah in a coma, Ana and James are shocked to discover that they have become the legal guardians of a 2½-year-old, Finn”.
I don’t know why I found this book so forgettable.
Read this if: Since I can’t remember anything about it, I can’t really recommend who should read it. 3 stars
10. THE HOW-TO HANDBOOK: Shortcuts and Solutions for the Problems of Everyday Life by Martin Oliver and Alexandra Johnson (Non-fiction, DIY)
Instructions for many basic but necessary life skills. Suitable for teens moving out for the first time.
Read this if: you’re off to college or to find your place in the world. 3 stars
Note: I won a copy of this book on Library Thing Early Reviewers. This did not affect my rating.
Is there anything here that catches your interest?
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