Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

This book has been jumping off the shelves at me for the past 5 years at least. Every time I'm in a bookstore or at the library, it calls to me - read me Kris!  I've picked it up, looked it over and thought, really another Canadian book on the prairies?  Nope, not for me.  And put it back down again.  And then there it was again and again, flaunting it's Governor General award winner badge at me.  So finally I gave in.  Because I had such low expectations of this book (I really thought I wouldn't like it at all) I was surprised to find myself engrossed in the story.  I have since read reader reviews of the book and it seems to me that people either love it or get so bored with it they don't finish it.  I don't fit into either category.  I think the writing was good, but I really couldn't call it much of a plot lined story.  There was lots of missing pieces of information that you wanted to have and I still don't have them at the end of the book.  There's a lot of filling in the blanks to do.
This is the story of Nomi Nickel, a teenager growing up in a Mennonite small town community in rural Manitoba? (I had envisioned Saskatchewan until reading the author was from Manitoba).  You learn early on that Nomi lives with her father Ray.  Her mother and sister left separately 3 years before - though you don't learn the whys of those departures until much later in the book.  The community of East Village is controlled by Nomi's uncle nicknamed The Mouth.  The Mouth takes his religious doctrine to the extreme, quashing any notions of worldly influence.  This isn't too far fetched.  The story is set in 1982.  I, myself grew up in a community with a large Mennonite population and had friends who had certain restrictions regarding movies, music and dance.  The Mouth takes it too the extreme however and you learn that shunnings are commonplace.  Being a Christian myself (and a pastor's wife) I can see the bent theology clearly here and it is no wonder that Nomi's sister Tash, becomes disenchanted with the church, looking to atheism. 
The story is told through Nomi's eyes, a 16 year old stuck in depression really with no way out.  She kind of watches life, looking to her boyfriend, drugs and nostalgia for pleasure.
The gem of this book for me is her relationship with her father, Ray.  Ray is a solid fellow who is lost in his own unrealized bewilderment of where life has taken him. 
This is the kind of book I would be interested in discussing with other readers, particularly those who were raised Mennonite, or in a small town community.  You do at times wonder if the book's accolades are merely a reflection of our society's need to discount religion, or, if it really is a deep, meaningful book?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

I absolutely love a new Margaret George book.   I've been waiting with eager anticipation for this one to come out.  What sets Margaret George apart from a lot of historical authors is her incredible research combined with fantastic writing skills.  The result is a historically accurate and highly readable novel.  Don't let the size of her books scare you off (this one is close to 700 pages).  What is inside is interesting reading.
This book begins in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign.  It is the time of the first Spanish Armada and continues until the end of her life.  The story of Lettice Knollys (a cousin and enemy of the Queen) is intertwined in juxtaposition.  This book is a departure from many recent writings of Queen Elizabeth.  George keeps her as the true Virgin Queen (where many others maintain that she was no virgin).  It shows her as a strong woman, a symbol of a time remembered as the Golden Age of England.  The secondary characters read as a who's who of the time (William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, William Cecil, and even Guy Fawkes making an appearance among others).  I completely enjoyed this book and found it to be a good installment for her books of the era.  She previously authored tales of King Henry VIII (my favorite of her works) and Mary, Queen of Scots (also a fantastic read).   I look forward to her next offering and wonder which historical figure she will tackle next.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins

A friend of mine gave me a Facebook shout out when she finished this book a couple of weeks back.  She thought I would love it.  She was right.  This is a highly readable, interesting book.  The middle does get a bit depressing, but press on and finish it, it's worth it.
The story flips back and forth between Thomas, a pastor, and Brady, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks.  You know their paths will cross at some point, but it takes a good three quarters of the book to get there.  The good thing with Jenkins' writing is that you don't feel disoriented with the 2 stories being told simultaneously.  It's easy to follow both and you do care about both characters (which makes the book difficult to put down).  I don't want to say too much about the plot as I don't want to give anything away.  This one is definitely worth your time.