Archive for the ‘adult materials’ Category

An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof (2004)

An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude by Ann Vanderhoof (2004).  Anchor Canada, a Division of Random House.  ISBN #0-385-65955-5.

It was first suggested that I read this book after I returned from a trip to visit a friend in Bequia.  Bequia is a small island in the Eastern Caribbean just off the coast of the larger St. Vincent.  It was an interesting trip but I somehow never got around to reading this book.  Another friend, without realizing that the book had already been recommended and knowing my love for all things food, bought me the book for Christmas, so I decided it was time.

Well, I not only read it, I devoured it!  Vanderhoof’s book is so joyous!  It is a celebration of all things Caribbean!  Part cruiser’s travel guide, part cook book – it discusses with great relish all of the joys of discovering other ways of living.

Vanderhoof and her husband decided to get away from it all so they rented their home in Toronto, delegated the duties associated with their business so the business could run on its own while they were travelling, and sailed away.  They lived an experience many only dream of.

If you are a traveller, a sailor, a foodie, or just an appreciator of cultures that differ from your own, you will enjoy this book.  Vanderhoof discusses the subtle nuances between each island enroute.  She talks about the people, the place, and the food.  She also invites the reader into both the pleasures and the challenges of sailing.  She tells her story with the energy that comes with a first and cherished experience.  It is a must read!

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom, 2012, Hyperion, New York.

Mitch Albom’s The Time Keeper imaginatively explores the origins of the marking of time and the implications our adoption of clock watching has on the lives of two principal characters, Victor and Sarah.  Victor, an elderly business man, is dying but searching for a way in which to outsmart death and be re-born in the future.  Sarah, a teenager, has given up on searching for love and thinks she is ready to leave this world.  Both are coming to terms with their own mortality.

Albom’s story is very creative.  I especially enjoyed the manner in which he describes the father of time and how he came to be.  Albom develops this particular character very well.

I could go on – I could tell you more about the specifics of the story – but I would prefer to talk about Albom and his writing in general.  I have also read Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People you Meet in Heaven.  I did not enjoy Tuesdays with Morrie even though it was a best seller.  I respect that visiting and talking with Morrie was a life altering event for Albom, but at the time I was reading it I was also caring for someone who was dying and I felt that Albom was too focused on his own needs rather than the needs of Morrie.  The Five People You Meet in Heaven was, by contrast, a classic in my mind.  It appeared a re-writing of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, ghosts and all.  It was highly imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable.  As I read The Time Keeper, however, my mind turned to Jimmy Stewart and the film, It’s a Wonderful Life and I started to see a pattern.  Was Albom, I wondered, re-writing all of the stories that I think of as the Christmas classics or is that just the way I’m reading his work?  If he is, is it intentional or is it just happening?  And, does it matter?   I am left wondering.  We always re-write the stories that have come before us in one way or another.  I know this for a fact.  But something isn’t sitting right with me here.  I would like to know more about father time, but don’t care to know more about Victor or Sarah.  Perhaps I need to read this again at a later date with fresh eyes.  What do you think?

NFB’s list of sites to watch films online for free

Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (2007), Toronto:  McClelland and Stewart, hard cover, 364 pages, ISBN 978-0-7710-3811-2.

In this Giller Prize winning novel Elizabeth Hay writes a story of love, transition, and – like all classic Canadian fiction – survival.

It’s Yellowknife, 1975,  and the enquiry into the McKenzie Valley gas pipeline is highlighting the plight of the aboriginal peoples.  At the same time, Harry Boyd returns to the north to manage a small radio station.  It is in that setting that the lives of the characters in the novel become intertwined.  Boyd becomes entranced by Dido, an exciting, almost exotic announcer who is running from her past.  Gwen, the youngest of the group and a passionate collector of sounds, becomes entranced by Boyd.  Eleanor, the station receptionist, with her own intriguing past, acts as the wise woman.  Together with Ralph, an extremely sensitive photographer, four of them set off to follow the route taken by the Arctic explorer John Hornby who perished in the Barrens in 1927.

I recently had the great pleasure of doing some back country camping in Labrador with Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air. And, although Labrador is not Yellowknife and I was not as far north as the Arctic, many little things resonated with me.  It was either bugs or wind.  Forest gave way to rock as we travelled.  Moss and bogs grew between the rocks as soft as a down-filled cushion.   Flowers grew in the most unlikely places.  And the hues in the rocks, flowers, and bogs were amazing.  Hay picks up on all of this and more.  The bear, the fox, washing hair in the river – all of this was articulated in Hay’s novel as I experienced it in the wild.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  The characters are intelligent, well-read, thoughtful, and witty.  It was a pleasure getting to know them.

Thank you Elizabeth Hay, for a job well done.

Alice Munro’s Runaway

Every once in a while I come across a book that I consider a keeper – that is, a book that I know I will return to again and again over the course of my lifetime.  Alice Munro’s Runaway is one such book.  I read it some time ago and now return to it again.  The fact that it is a short story collection makes it the kind of material that is suitable for reading when I am busy with life and need a diversion for an hour or two only.  It is a group of stories that look at different ways of defining what a “Runaway” is.

I recently read two of the stories: “Silence” – about a mother waiting to hear from a daughter who has run off to join a commune – and, “Passion” – about a young girl not ready to make a commitment to a young man.

Munro, who won the Giller Prize for this collection, has the ability to get inside the heads of those characters she writes about.    She does such a good job of describing their thoughts and actions that she evokes empathy from the reader for each character.  It is as if we are there with them and we can feel their anxiety.

“Silence” was especially poignant for me at this stage in my life.  As I read it I kept thinking of the pain the mother must be feeling while she waits to hear from her daughter.  I wanted to shake her and say, “stop waiting!  Go after her!  Be proactive!”  But I imagine how such an event might affect me in the same manner as it did her if it happened with my child.

Runaway by Alice Munro (2004), Penguin Canada.  ISBN # 0-14-305071-0, paperback, 335 pages.

beatrice & virgil

beatrice & virgil by Yann Martel (2010).  Toronto:  Random House, 197 pgs + appendix.  Hard cover, ISBN # 978-0-307-39877-2.

I finished reading Yann Martel’s beatrice & virgil last night and I’ve been thinking about it most of today.  I read it through once only.  I found some of the descriptions difficult to deal with – graphic and ugly and so like I would imagine the atrocities of the Holocaust.  But I would prefer not to think about them.  And perhaps that is the point of the novel.  We should not forget the things that people do in the name of – in the name of??  I can’t fathom why people do some of the things they do.

Henry is asked on page 15, “What’s your book about?” and that seems to continue to be a question that is difficult to answer.  On one level Martel’s story is about a novelist named Henry who meets a taxidermist also named Henry who is writing a play and needs help.  But it’s also about so many other things:  the Holocaust, representation, memory, trauma, writing as a form of therapy?, madness, the fact that people are animals, filling a gap in the literary record.  It is a story about a historical event – historical fiction, if you will, but different.  It is not only about the event itself, it is also about the effect of the event on one individual and those who came into contact with him.  Or is it?

It is post modern in form.  Martel is writing “a flip book” , but not in the sense that it is described by the narrator, in the sense that it turns in upon itself.  It is a book about writing.  The writing within it is about a horrific event and it ends with a horrific event.  But does it end?

Henry, the taxidermist seemed to be re-living his trauma through his writing but also appears to be a perpetrator of the violence.  Or is he?

Sometimes I wonder if Martel’s intention wasn’t perhaps that Henry, the taxidermist, isn’t really a representation of the mind of Henry, the writer.

It is a book I will likely return to because of it’s play with form – no chapters – one continuous story about … so many things.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

Alexander McCall Smith’s (2005) Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, Vintage Canada, ISBN #13:  978-0-676-97666-3, paperback, 261 pages.

What does it mean to transplant a heart?  Is it merely a surgical procedure?  Or does one’s heart carry with it the trials and tribulations – the heart ache, if you will – of the life they have led?

These are the questions McCall Smith addresses in the second in his series of Isabel Dalhousie mysteries, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate.

Once again, the Scottish town of Edinburgh with its rugged landscape and small town characteristics is featured prominently.

Once again Isabel Dalhousie, with the assistance of her niece, Cat, her friend, Jamie, and her housekeeper, Grace, attempts to unravel a mystery.

This mystery, however, is one of the heart.

The Sunday Philosophy Club

Alexander McCall Smith’s (2004) The Sunday Philosophy Club, Vintage Canada, ISBN # 0-676-97665-4, paperback, 247 pages.

Meet Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and amateur sleuth.

Isabel is a 40 something year old woman (although I imagine her much older) who lives alone in the small Scottish village of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a village not unlike the small Ontario towns in Alice Munro’s writing and Isabel is highly conscious of the fact that everyone seems to know everyone else’s business.  At the same time, however, Isabel goes to great lengths to get to the heart of matters.

In this first in the series, Isabel unravels the mysterious death of a young man who falls from the upper balcony of the opera hall.

Joining her in her investigations is:  her housekeeper, Grace, who doesn’t mince words; her niece, Cat, who owns the local delicatessen (a gathering place for coffee and conversation), and; Cat’s former boyfriend, Jaimie.

Jaimie is the most present of the secondary characters as he is frequently called upon by Isabel to be a male escort of sorts and to come over when she is fearful in the house alone at night.  They are good friends and Isabel often expresses the desire for he and Cat to reconcile.  At the same time, however, she is conscious of her own feelings for Jaimie but, as an older woman (you can see why I keep thinking she must be older than 40 something), she keeps her feelings in check.

As an individual who has not read a lot of mysteries I felt that I was getting closer to understanding the small town dynamics of this Scottish village with all of its ethical dilemmas when reading this book than I was to solving a mystery.  That said, a mystery was solved and it was Isabel Dalhousie’s questioning nature that was responsible for solving it.

Mystery/Crime Writing

Thanks to Deborah Black for directing me to this link, a list of Mystery/Crime Writing that is not North American.

Internet Movie Database

The Internet Movie Database is an excellent site for synopsis and reviews of movies including television movies as well as big screen.  It also includes an “if you like this, you’ll like that section”.

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