Friday, April 30, 2021

Born a Crime - April 26, 2021

It is Zoom again this month!  Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book discussed this month, Marg's choice, was Born a Crime, Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.  

Trevor Noah, born in Johannesburg South Africa during Apartheid to a black Xhosa mother and a white German Swiss father. He is considered in South Africa, a coloured person.  He was raised by his mother with little influence from his father.  His mother Patricia raised him with her mother in Soweto where her family lived.  During the first years of his life when Apartheid still existed he was kept mostly indoors to keep away from the eyes of the authorities. Trevor began his education in a private catholic school amongst mainly white children.  He soon realized that the best way to blend in with different groups was to know their language and he taught himself practically every language spoken in South Africa.  In his late teens he began a career in South African radio and television as a comedian and actor.  One of his television appearances was seen by Jon Stewart, previous host of The Daily Show, an American night time show.  He was offered the opportunity to replace Jon Stewart.  He moved to New York City in 2011.  

All members enjoyed the book and learned a lot about life in South Africa both during Apartheid and after  South Africa was liberated from white rule.  Trevor's experiences as he recounts them plunged the reader into the realities of Apartheid, poverty, violence and inequality.  With his mother who believed in grasping all opportunities, post-Apartheid gave them the chance to live more freely and Trevor embraced every opportunity he had.  

All of us admired Trevor's mother who pushed him to have an open mind and see all the opportunities the world offered.   Thank you Marg for a good book choice that allowed us to learn about South Africa. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Wild Rose - March 22, 2021

 We have now met online for one full year! We should be proud of our perseverance!  Present were Betty, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book discussed tonight was Janet's choice, Wild Rose by Sharon Butala.  Ms. Butala joined our meeting at 8:00 pm and we had a very good discussion with her. 

Janet chose this book because her husband's grandparents were homesteaders in Saskatchewan that had come from France.  Two other of our members came from the prairie provinces and had families that struggled to make a life homesteading in Western Canada. 

Sharon Butala is a Canadian author from Saskatchewan.  She taught at the University of Saskatchewan, College of Education before becoming a full time writer. She has written 22 books, the 22nd coming out on September 13, 2021, called The Strange Visible Air - Essays on Aging.  She is not only a prolific writer; she has written fiction - novels, short stories and essays - as well as non-fiction.  She has three Honorary Doctors of Law from the University of Regina, Saskatchewan and Alberta. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.  She has received literary awards, the Marian Engel Award amongst them.   Ms. Butala's grandparents came from Québec and homesteaded in Saskatchewan and is most probably why there is the connection with Québec in this story. 

This is a historical novel that we all enjoyed and found very interesting.  It is very well written; the descriptions of the prairie landscapes allowed us to visualize the beauty. "Nothing, nothing to be seen for miles in any direction: only grass and more grass, hills and more low softly sloping hills, repeating themselves until they reach the far, light-filled wavering horizon." (pg 134).  Sophie, the main character, is a young woman who has come to Saskatchewan from Québec with her husband to homestead.  She is abandoned by her husband and the land they had started to develop is sold from under her.  Alone with a young child and very little to survive, she is determined to make a life for herself and her son and despite setbacks she survives and prospers.  

We were all impressed by Sophie's determination and guts to succeed in a land that was essentially dominated by men.  Members felt that the discussion of Sophie's life as a young child in rural Québec allowed us to view the grip the Catholic Church had on the population in Québec in the 1880's.  Sophie wanted to escape the restrictions imposed on women in Québec society dominated by the Catholic Church. Sophie's life and struggles showed us how difficult life was for women alone in our developing country. The story Wild Rose reminded us of the courage and determination women had to have to carve out a life for themselves and their families in the Canadian prairies of the late 19th and early 20th century.   

Thank you Janet for an excellent book choice and thank you Sharon Butala for the wonderful conversation we shared with you. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Magic Lessons - February 22, 2021

 It is always nice to see all the faces on the screen for our Zoom Bookclub meeting.  Present tonight, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  The book discussed tonight was Michèle's choice Magic Lessons  by Alice Hoffman.  

Ms Hoffman is an American novelist born in New York City in 1952. She studied creative writing and now lives in Boston.  She wrote over 30 novels, 3 short story books and 8 children's or YA novels.  

Magic Lessons is part of a series of three books about the Owens family, all women.  The first book of the series was Practical Magic written in 1995, The Rules of Magic was written in 2017 and Magic Lessons was published in 2020.  Both of these last two books are prequels, written after the original book.  A fourth book will be published next year about the whole Owens family.  

Magic Lessons begins in the late 1600's and is the story of Maria Owen abandoned as a newborn in the snowy fields of rural England. She is found by Hannah Owens and raised by her until the age of 11.  It becomes evident that Maria has magical powers and Hannah teaches her the Nameless Arts, the herbs and remedies that help for physical maladies a those of the heart. When Hannah is murdered, to save herself Maria leaves England and finds herself on a tropical island in Central America and then goes on to America.  The story follows Maria to Salem, Massachusetts where she travels to find the father of her daughter Faith.  She is arrested and found guilty of witchery.  The story continues when Maria escapes but loses her daughter Faith.  Jolene, who passed away in 2018, would have enjoyed this book since it has a happy ending, tying all the loose ends. 

Most of our members enjoyed the book.  Many found it read like a fairytale and was a page-turner.  The characters were well developed and interesting.  It was an easy read, easy to follow the story and plot.  There are many contrasts in the story, good & evil of course,  selfless use of magical powers as Maria did and selfish use of magical powers as her birth mother Rebecca did.   Many of us felt like yelling at Maria and Faith when they made poor choices, almost always about men! We were definitely immersed in the story! We were also all intrigued by the black soap that all women wanted and bought from Maria. 

Janet pointed out that we have read other books that use magical realism, Yann's Martel's  The High Mountains of Portugal and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.   She also noted that this is the 3rd book we have read in the last year that is in the time of the Great Plague of London of 1665, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish and Bush Runner : The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson by Mark Bourrie.   

Maria sang the lullaby The Water is Wide to her daughter Faith as some of us did with our own children.  Thank you Janet for reminding us.   This was a good book to read during these difficult times in today's world, easy to escape to another time, a fairytale. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek - January 25, 2021

As we begin 2021, we have become quite good at holding our Zoom meetings, being quite respectful,  waiting our turn to speak and sometimes even holding up our hand when we have something to say! However, we all miss  seeing each other in person every month and of course the food and wine! Present at this evening's meeting were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley. 

Our first task this evening was to name the Book of the Year 2020.  We had several excellent books this year and it was obvious in the votes we received. However, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the narrow favourite, Carla's book choice in 2020.  

This evening we discussed Carla's book choice The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michèle Richardson.  Ms. Richardson was born in Kentucky and grew up at the Saint Thomas-Saint Vincent Orphan Asylum.  Her memoir The Unbreakable Child chronicles her experiences at the orphanage and why she along with her sisters and 40 other children who lived at the orphanage, sued the Sisters of Charity in 2004 for the abuse they endured.  Ms. Richardson has written 4 novels along with the memoir.  

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a historical novel set in the Appalachian Hills of Kentucky. The heroine, Cussy Mary Carter is one of the last females of the Blue-skinned people of Kentucky. The story takes place during the depression of the 1930's.  The Pack Horse Library Project was a work project to deliver books to remote areas of Kentucky.  Cussy Mary was hired as a book woman and she and her mule Junia travelled her treacherous routes  delivering books, magazines, newspapers and other reading materials to her patrons.  We learned their stories and difficult life in depression era Kentucky. Cussy Mary's strength of character and determination showed in her belief that books and any reading material helped people dream and believe in a better life. 

There was no debate about the merits of this book.  Everyone loved the book and it is a definite page turner.  The writing is excellent, the characters are well-developed. The description of the Appalachian area of Kentucky brought alive the harshness of the terrain, the mountains and the deep connection people had to their part of the world . As a historical novel we learned about the blue people of Kentucky and many of us took the time to read more about this genetic condition.  The Pack Horse Library Project highlighted the desire and thirst people had to read and learn about the outside world.  We were all moved by the drama of arranged marriages, starving children, bigotry and discrimination.  

We were all intrigued by the use of  a "courting candle" by Cussy Mary's father and Carla showed us a photo of one she had found.  It is a Colonial candle holder used as a time-keeper marking the length of time a suitor could visit.  

Thank you Carla for selecting such a beautiful descriptive historical novel that we all enjoyed. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. - November 23rd 2020

We are continuing with our Zoom meetings and they have become very productive.  We all agree however that when we can again meet in person it will be even better!  Present at the meeting were Betty, Carla, Janet, Linda, Marg, Michèle and Shirley.  We discussed Shirley's book choice, The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish.  Ms. Kadish is an American author. This is her 4th book.  The Weight of Ink took her 12 years to write.  She teaches creative writing at Lesley University.

This is the story that takes place in London, of two strong women, Ester Valesquez a young Jewish emigrant in the 16th century and Helen Watt a Historian with a specialty in Jewish history in the 21st century.  Helen is asked to evaluate papers found during the renovation of an ancient house in London.  Through these papers we meet Ester who is a scribe for a blind Rabbi.  As the stories evolve we learn of the horrors that Jews endure in the Spanish Inquisition, the rich trade of Amsterdam and their life in London including the plague that ravages the city. We read of Helen's one true love when she spends a year in a Jewish kibbutz. We read of her struggles as a historian ailing as she was, and the trials and tribulation she goes through in her last years working, her struggle to make her mark by discovering the importance of the papers found in the 17th century London house.  

Most of us loved this book, enjoyed the intrigue, the strong women characters and the men that surrounded them, the 16th century mores of London society. Anti-Semitism was as present as today's society.   Of course the description of the London plague and how society coped is very relevant for us today. We learned so much history of those times in London in this story. 

When Helen, as a young woman, decides to spend a year in a Jewish kibbutz, we discover the politics, the norms of a kibbutz and we witness the development of a love story between Helen and Dror the young Jewish man who leads and supervises the young people who come to do their part in the development of the Jewish State. We live the pain that Helen feels when she leaves Dror behind. 

In the 16h century, Ester Valesquez is determined to continue her work as a scribe but also she discovers a thirst for knowledge that she needs to fulfil. She struggles to find balance between her desire for knowledge and her attraction and friendship with Alvaro. 

Some of us found a link with Jane Austen's books, women looking for husbands.  Janet noted that in the time of Ester in London it is the same time that Jean-Esprit Radisson from the book Bush Runner was in London.  There is a lot to learn and enjoy in this book.  

Some of us enjoy books with a happy satisfying ending and although Helen did die before her work and achievements were properly recognized, we felt that there was a good and happy ending.

Thank you Shirley for pushing us into reading this book, heavy and long as it was!  

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Books and Meetings 2021

 The list will be updated as members choose their books.

Monday January 25th - Carla's choice The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson, Marg hosting

Monday February 22nd - Michèle's choice  Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman- Janet hosting

Monday March 22nd - Janet's choice Wild Rose by Sharon Butala- Carla hosting

Monday April 26th - Marg's choice Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah - Jane hosting

Monday May 31st - Betty's choice - Frankenstein by Mary W. Shelley - Colette hosting

Monday June 28th -  -Shirley' choice The Lightkeeper's Daughters by Jean Pendziwol - Beth hosting

Monday September 27th - Colette's choice Becoming by Michelle Obama - Michèle hosting

Monday October 25th - Jane's choice - Betty. hosting

Monday November 22nd - Beth's choice The Dig by John Preston - Linda hosting

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice - October 26th, 2020

 Zoom meetings seem to be the norm and our members are holding strong!  Present were Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Michèle and Shirley.  We discussed Jane's book choice Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice.  Mr. Rice is an Anishinaabe writer from the Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario.  He studied journalism at Ryerson University and worked as a journalist at CBC television and radio.  He left CBC in May 2020 to concentrate on his literary career.  He has written a book of short stories Midnight Sweatlodge and a first novel Legacy.  He has also written scripts and journalistic articles.   He recently announced that he is writing a sequel to Moon of the Crusted Snow.  

This story that takes place in a small Northern Anishinaabe community can be considered a thriller. As winter is beginning to settle in, some members of the community are hunting to ensure their food supply.  The story begins with Evan Whitesky who has just killed a large male moose.  When he gets back to his community with the moose carcass that he plans to share with family,  the community begins to lose it's sources to the outside world, cable goes out, cell phone service dies and soon even landlines don't work and they lose their power source.  The band council meets and decides on a plan to survive what they believe is a temporary problem.  As the plot unfolds, life becomes more and more difficult and when strangers from down south arrive, a struggle for the survival of the community unfolds. Evan becomes a leader in the struggle to maintain their traditional life.  

Every once in a while, we read a book that all of us enjoy tremendously and Moon of the Crusted Snow is one that was enjoyed by all of our members.  It surprised some of us.  We all found the book to be suspenseful, well written with a good plot, thoughtful with well developed characters even the evil characters are well developed.  There is humour and tragedy in this story.   One member mentioned that it reminded her of Lord of the Flies. As the community finds itself completely isolated, struggles begin in an attempt to survive. 

Several of us mentioned that we learned several things about First Nations traditions,  it had an educational aspect weaved into the story.  Many of noted that Mr. Rice incorporated several problems facing indigenous communities such as alcoholism,  suicide, drug abuse and the effects of residential schools but without them dominating the story.  His writing skills are excellent. 

Thank you Jane for this wonderful book selection that we all enjoyed.  Jane has given us a couple of interesting links. 

Waubgeshig Rice

Screen adaptation and sequel