Monday, 31 December 2012

The Christmas Collector - Kristina McMorris

The Story...

Estate liquidator Jenna Matthews isn't one for Christmas nostalgia. But when one grandmother's keepsakes suggest a secret life, unwrapping the mystery leads Jenna - and her client's handsome grandson - to the true heart of the holiday spirit...

A Reader's Experience...

Another solid lesson about facing up to the regrets of your past, moving on and renewing relationships. We are reminded as readers of what we truly value in our lives - our memories and experiences, feelings and relationships that truly form the person we are. The characters in the story go from denying or questioning these matters to truly embracing and honoring them, and to a true appreciation of the precious gifts that money can't buy. To know of a loved one's past, of makes them who they are is to bring a clarity and understanding that is otherwise missing, and to bring an irrreplacable worth and value in to new light. The more we completely know someone, the more cherished and facinating they become as we want to know more, to continue their story and see it through to satisfying ends and new beginnings.

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Christmas Thief - Leslie Meier

The Story...

Elizabeth Stone is ready for a white Christmas in Tinker's Cove, Maine - until a fancy yule ball at the Florida hotel where she works dumps snow on her plans. The sponsor's jewels have gone missing and the police are asking about her ties to a cute mystery guest. Good thing Elizabeth's mother, Lucy Stone, flew down to surprise her. 'Tis the season for a little investigating...

A Reader's Experience...

This was a tale of neat little surprises and twists, with the action moving at a good pace so as to excite, but not overwhelm. Elisabeth is a character I felt at once sympathetic towards but could also laugh with. Through her compromising position throughout the story, she is a calm, cool, and level headed character. We also get a sense of the careful planning, logic, and sense that allows her to team up with her mother and Miss Tilley in order to put the pieces together and solve the mystery. All in all, the story turns in to a fun and light hearted reminder that things aren't always what they seem. Also, a good crisis can either bring out the best or worst in the people you are close to, allowing you to find out who you can truly trust and where loyalties truly lie.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Joy of Christmas - Holly Chamberlin

The Story...

Not all happiness is good for you - or that's what Iris Karr thinks when she decides to move away instead of marrying her sweetheart Ben. Even years later, living with that decision isn't easy - until a familiar face comes to call her home for the holidays...

A Reader's Experience...

This is definitely the story of a struggle for personal happiness, of healing past wounds and of second chances. Iris is finally compelled to find the courage and personal peace necessary in order to face up to her past decision, and to finally claim the love she deserves. While reading, I was begging her to give herself a break, to forgive herself and move on. I think it teaches us that even if your past love doesn't show up out of the blue, you still can't undo the past. If he hadn't shown up, there's no telling how long it would have taken or what other road she would have travelled in order to finally redeem herself. It is also clear that the connection that they shared was never truly broken, and that commitment and loyalty are what it takes to bring the desires of the heart to the surface. I appreciate how one chance meeting sets off the effect that not only rekindles the relationship but also had the power to mend the personal wounds and other relationships that were holding her back. A reminder that when we fight against our own desires and our own needs, we can't win.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Winter Wonderland - Fern Michaels

The Story...

Angelica Shepard left New York for Christmas in Colorado to relax and unwind - but an out-of-control snowboarder almost had her laid to rest. When she wakes up in the hospital, all she remembers is the handsome angel who saved her...

A Reader's Experience...

A compelling tale of two lonely strangers brought together through a little holiday destiny. Yes, it's all very fairy tale cliche, but sometimes a little magic has a good effect on the spirit.

Angelica and Parker are connected through their crisis of careers - him questioning his legitimacy as a doctor after losing a patient, and her a struggling actress waiting for a break. It's not hard to tell that both have noble ambitions but that both are facing discouragement and setbacks in the process. It seems that the love and bond they found in one another was what brought clarity to their goals and allowed them to move on as individuals with renewed determination. I appreciate the friendly reminder that out of uncertainty, fear, and accidents can come the road to where you are meant to be. Add to the mix the dorky, fluttery romance of first instincts and fumbled reactions, and the story is a feel good keeper.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Grapes Of Wrath - John Steinbeck

The Story...

The Grapes of Wrath is a landmark of American literature. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.  First published in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath summed up its era in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin summed up the years of slavery before the Civil War. Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book—which takes its title from the first verse: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s fictional chronicle of the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

A Reader's Experience...

"Moving" doesn't even begin to describe this American classic. As a reader, I lose my faith in humanity, gain it back, lose it all over again. It's tragic and profound, a full spectrum of human emotion and empathy. Although there are no happy endings, I am confident that we as humankind can (and will) learn to do better, and I believe that is only though such bold moves as taking the hidden realities of the era out of the shadows can we begin to be challenged to do so. I am in awe of the resourcefulness, teamwork, and compassion that are highlighted in Steinbeck's writing.

Throughout each chapter, the Joad family keeps their wits about them with a mix of humor, hard work, and brutal honesty. They save what they can and share what they can, go where they are needed and come up with innovative solutions. Although they get in to trouble, I believe it takes a high degree of intellegence on their part to have stayed alive and stayed together as much as they did.

Each family member fufills a skillfull role and works together seamlessly. Cooking, repairing, working, driving, and looking out for one another. They are the very definition of a team, a cohesive unit, and it proved to be key to their survival. They all knew how to gauge one anothers feelings and actions, and how to communicate and respond at a very connected level. It clearly matters not only what struggles you can overcome but who you are with, and if I found myself fighting for life and livlihood I can only hope to be bonded so deeply to my family and allies.

Another beautiful sentiment is the human compassion that does shine through in this saga. The preacher, the other families and travellers that the Joads meet along the way - so many extend a helping, courteous hand to another in need. They all recognise what it is to suffer, and all remind us that there really is "good folks" out there everywhere. The relationships become beautifully interdependent in that what goes around comes around. If you help others now, they will reciprocate when you come to need them. Somehow, despite the bitter circumstances, I feel that Stenbeck is reminding us that together, we are so much better and stronger than the superhuman, capitalist, economic forces that threaten to tear us apart, if we are willing to be.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Citizens Of Nowhere - Debi Goodwin

The Story...

When Debi Goodwin travelled to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in 2007 to shoot a documentary on young Somali refugees soon coming to Canada, she did not anticipate the impact the journey would have on her. A year later, in August of 2008, she decided to embark upon a new journey, starting in the overcrowded refugee camps in Kenya, and ending in university campuses across Canada. For a year, she recorded the lives of eleven very lucky refugee students who had received coveted scholarships from Canadian universities, guaranteeing them both a spot in the student body and permanent residency in Canada. We meet them in the overcrowded confines of a Kenyan refugee camp and track them all the way through a year of dramatic and sometimes traumatic adjustments to new life in a foreign country called Canada. This is a snapshot of a refugee's first year in Canada, in particular a snapshot of young men and women lucky and smart enough to earn their passage from refugee camp to Canadian campus.

A Reader's Experience...

Canada prides itself on being a multicultural nation of widespread immigration, as I feel we should. But for those who immigrate, their entire life, goals, worldview and identiry are thrown in to a flurry of change that takes an incredible amount of careful deliberation, patience, and courage in order to negotiate. Goodwin's sensitive observations and thoughtful insights give readers a much more complete sense of empathy, admiration, and hope towards not only the deeply personal plights of the 11 Somali refugees that she follows, but towards the continuing waves of immigrants the we as Canadians are sure to encounter in years to come.

Because the stories are so honest and real, I appreaciate that both the refugee camps and Canada are presented in a realistic light. Few of us will ever have to feel as out of place as these students would have, and as readers we get an appreciation for the endless adjustments that must be learned day by day - friends, homesickness, cooking, money, housing, jobs, religion, schoolwork, language, shopping... all an enormous amount of responsibility and demand, even with a system of sponsorship and support. If it were me, I know that I would have to reach deep within myself and find strength I never knew that I had, and it is clear that each of the students were compelled to do just that.

I am full of admiration for the courage and perseverence demonstrated by the students. They were all driven by the desire to become successful for themselves and for their families in order to build a life they could be proud of. Not to be famous or even rich, but to create lasting stability and security. Thinking about the fears and uncertainties they had to face, I am able to put my own percieved struggles as a student in to better perspective. These students were selected because they are the best and brightest, and we can only be richer as a country and as universities for accepting them. I admire them though not simply for what they can accomplish, but for the obstacles they must overcome in order to get there. Clearly, the students are presented as men and women of integrity and purpose. It is clear that Goodwin is profoundly moved by her subjects, as am I. We are reminded through them of what truly matters, and always will, even in the globalized, changing world - tradition and family, learning and challenge, honor and commitment, honesty, hard work and friendship.

Although some of the students remain uncertain and unstable at the conclusion of the first year, we are left with a good sense of hope. Some had to compromise their career goals to be more efficient and realistic, yet it is still promising that their chances remain better than if that had remained in the refugee camps. The sponsorship programs are still developing and expanding, and the way seems paved for more students to take advantage. If the program continues to grow, there is enormous potential to benefit the lives of Canadian students and immigrants alike through the reciprical relationship of exchange. It is heartbreaking that they face the loss and separation from their families, which is why we should feel obligated as Canadians to welcome and accomodate them and create a new sense of home without forgetting the one they have left behind. It is my hope that, without imposing our own story as Canadians upon them, we could become a part of a new story and a new beginning for the students.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Anne of Ingleside - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne is the mother of five, with never a dull moment in her lively home. And now, with a new baby on the way and insufferable Aunt Mary Maria visiting - and wearing out her welcome - Anne's life is full to bursting.

Still, Mrs. Doctor can't think of any place she'd rather be than her own beloved Ingleside. Until the day she begins to worry that her adored Gilbert doesn't love her anymore. How could that be? She may be a little older, but she's still the same irrepressible, irreplaceable redhead - that wonderful Anne of Green Gables, all grown up. She's ready to make her cherished husband fall in love with her all over again!

A Reader's Experience...

Now that Anne has children and has built a large, bustling family life, readers come to experience Anne's legacy of laughs, tears, and imagination all over again.

Montgomery's sense of humor shines in this story. The amusing, chattering gossip of the Ladies' Aid. Little Nan's "bargain with God", and her gullable innocence at believing she was switched at birth in a case of mistaken identity. Rilla's  cake delivery mishap. Anne's matchmaking disaster with friends Alden and Stella. What I love about these stories is that I can picture the children as adults looking back on such stories with amusement. Like Anne's own adventures in the very first novel, they capture the naivety and pure, unwavering convictions of childhood.

The story provides a balanced dose of reality, however, with it's share of worries, challenges, and fears. Friendships are betrayed, such as that between Di and her manipulative chums Jenny and Delilah. Anne questions Gilbert's loyalty and fears that he is bored of her. Jem mourns the loss of a trusted pet. Anne and Gilbert both succomb to bouts of serious illness. The encouragement and hope for the reader comes through when personal character and family ties are strenghened and come to triumph in the midst of their struggles. The stories of Ingleside renew faith in the tender and enduring spirit of family.

Also renewed is the spirit of adventure and imagination that Montgomery in infamous for writing. The children explore Rainbow Valley and transform into fairies and pirates. Walter finds his way home to Ingleside from the Parkers. Nan discovers the true nature of the "Gloomy House". The enchanting magic of the world around them not only form unforgettable childhood memories but also remind us that we don't have to go far in order to experience something brand new and exciting. Once we have lived in the world of dreams, the world of reality becomes that much more spectacular as the magic then follows us everywhere. As a reader, I feel that Montgomery challenges us not to lose the magic, but to hold on to it as a most treasured heirloom carrying us through what would otherwise be the most dull and lifeless of days. Material things come and go, but dreams will remain.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Anne's House of Dreams - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne's own true love, Gilbert Blythe, is finally a doctor, and in the sunshine of the old orchard, among their dearest friends, they are about to speak their vows. Soon the happy couple will be bound for a new life together and their own dream house, on the misty purple shores of Four Winds Harbor.

A new life means fresh problems to solve, fresh surprises. Anne and Gilbert will make new friends and meet their neighbors: Captain Jim, the lighthouse attendant, , with his sad stories of the sea; Miss Cornelia Bryant, the lady who speaks from the heart - and speaks her mind; and the tragically beautiful Leslie Moore, into whose dark life Anne shines a brilliant light.

A Reader's Experience...

Once again, I find it exhilerating and inspiring as a reader to be transported through new key stages of Anne's life, as if I were living them right along side of her. This time, she has gone from childhood to college, from working girl to wife and mother. As a result, this book now carries with it an entirely new tone and significance. There is an added moral and spiritual depth, profoundly shocking revelations, and life altering changes.

On a moral level, readers grapple with the history and dilemmas of Leslie Moore. Ultimately, Anne follows her own conscience in befriending her, despite her harsh past and cold resistence, and untimately, Leslie goes through with a decision that, while controversial among the inhabitants of Four Winds, was very much hers to make. I wonder if I would have been brave or bold enough to do the same thing, and am reminded that we need to learn to trust our own judgement and accept the (most often unpredictable) results of such decisions as they unfold.

Although I like to read a story that realistically flows forward, I also love an element of unanticpated shock as a reader. In this story, Dick Moore isn't really Dick Moore - and I honestly didn't see it coming. Then follows the delicious moment when most everything becomes clearer, and a character like Leslie has a clean slate with which to re-think her past and future course. Cornelia's engagement is yet another instance where we are surprised by what is revealed about a character and must re-think our assumptions as readers, and we can vividly appreciate and picture Anne and Gilbert's "kerflummexed" reaction - priceless.

Most parents will say (although I can't personally speak to the matter) that becoming a parent changes everything, and for Anne this would be no exception. The pure, raw emotion and tender, loving instincts which she feels towards her first two children are touching and natural, and I believe that Anne's entire world view is shifted. Nothing is more real or important to her as the child she lost after a short time and the child she was raising. It seems that Anne will only now understand the past experience of Diana and other friends who became mothers before her. Just as Leslie Moore is able to start life over again with Owen, so do Cornelia and Marshall, as well as Anne and Gilbert as they upgrade to a brand new home. Such new changes are all about real adult freedoms and responsabilities, and I can truly feel the rewards and fulfillment of starting over and moving on.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Anne of Windy Poplars - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

Anne Shirley has left Redmond College behind to begin a new job and a new chapter of her life away from Green Gables. Now she faces a new challenge: The Pringles. They're known as the royal family of Summerside - and they quickly let Anne know she is not the person they wanted as principal of Summerside High School. But as she settles into the cozy tower room at Windy Poplars, Anne finds that she has great allies in the widows Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty - and in their irrepressible housekeeper, Rebecca Dew. As Anne learns Summerside's strangest secrets, winning the support of the prickly Pringles is only the first of her delicious triumphs.

A Reader's Experience...

Now that Anne has completed college, it is a real pleasure for me to be meeting her as an accomplished, independent, working adult. Once again, she stays true to the character built up in the previous novels - wise, intellegent, imaginative, and charming. While Green Gables remains her dear, forever home, it is touching that her heart remains open and continues to grow with new dreams, new adventures, and new friends around every bend in the road. As a reader, I am gripped by every amusing surprise, touched by Anne's ability to charm and forgive, and inspired by her relationship with Gilbert through a challenging separation.

I love the surprise outcomes to which Anne finds herself responsable for, both unexpected and unintentional. Somehow, she provides the missing link to solidify and mend a great number of relationships, becoming in word and action exactly what each dilemma needs to become ironically resolved. The Taylor Family of Cyrus, Trix, and Esme are a good example of how Anne brings out the uncharacteristic side of the former, to the benefit and amusement of his daughters. The Nelsons are another, Hazel Marr another, and Franklin Wescott and his daughter yet another. Then there is the more sensitive case of Lewis Allen and Jim Armstrong, affected by tragedy and brought together through chance, as well as Elizabeth's reconciliation to her father - another touching instant of hope and promise which truly affects Anne throughout the novel. Anne has a knack for bringing about the desired effect, although certainly not in the way in which she intended, and she repeatedly risks her own embaressment in order to help others.

Anne also posesses the attitude, charm, and skill to win over even her worst and most resistent enemies. The Pringles as well as Katherine Brooke and Mrs. Gibson are prime examples, not to mention the widows and Rebecca Dew who she lives and bonds with for her three years in Summerside. Anne's sensitivity, gentleness, and carefree zest for life work to bring out the best in those around her, and she never gives up on people when she feels in her bones that she has what it takes to affect them. She is bold and courageous in this sense, and it is inspiring how she is willing to look beyond how others appear on the surface and get to the heart of the matter.

Through Anne's letters to Gilbert, we get the sense that the childhood sweethearts have blossomed in to adult commitments. Although engaged, they both put off marriage in order to persue a career and keep their relationship alive over time and space. Their dreams of making a life together and vision for their future are sustained, and Anne seems to realize that their marriage is worth waiting for. They are content to develop seperately before developing together, and the anticipation keeps them both going. I think their case lends truth to the proverb "absense makes the heart grow fonder". I also think that it allows the reader to anticipate their union in the coming novels.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Anne of the Island - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

New adventures lie ahead as Anne Shirley packs her bags, waves goodbye to childhood, and heads for Redmond College. With her old friend Prissy Grant waiting in the bustling city of Kingsport and her frivolous new friend Philippa Gordon at her side, Anne tucks away her memories of rural Avonlea and discovers life on her own terms, filled with surprises... including a marriage proposal from the worst fellow imaginable, the sale of her very first story, and a tragedy that teaches her a painful lesson. But tears turn to laughter when Anne and her friends move into an old cottage and an ornery black cat steals her heart. Little does Anne know that handsome Gilbert Blythe wants to win her heart, too. Suddenly Anne must decide whether she's ready for love.

A Reader's Experience...

As Anne Shirley grows up, she learns to challenge the girl she once had been. Romance becomes more real, memories more cherished, and humor more invigerating. She shows us all what it is to trade the vivid fantasies of youth for a reality that can be just as exciting, equally surprising, and a lot more satisfying.

I love how Montgomery's pursuit of romance, in the character of Anne, is both a struggle and an ideal. Readers are kept happy by the fairy tale illusions and eventual outcomes of many a character, yet we are presented with all of the false hopes and heartbreaks, the misread signals and revealations, and the imposed expectations and frustrations which must be confronted along the way. The experience of finding romance - recognising it, holding on to it, letting it go - is complexified and heartfelt. As far as love goes, such experiences allow us as readers (and when living it in real life) to recognise and appreciate the real deal whenever it comes along.

Anne has a very dear way of rekindling her old memories and feeling her way through waves of nostalgia. She is willing and able to re-live the story club days of her girlhood, the promises she made to Diana in sacred friendship, her images of Gilbert as a boy, her mishaps, her laughs, and her tears. Memories of older days add for her a sweetness and appreciation to the new, and this adds to my understanding of Anne as a character who takes nothing for granted - she lives her life fully and completely with everything it has to offer.

I love Montgomery's ironic sense of humor. The visit of Anne's latest suitor and his family with resulting destruction of Pricilla's cake, the precocious feline companions, the embarassing marriage proposals and the publication of her first literary masterpiece, baking powder and all. Like the previous novels, Anne's compromising positions add to her intrigue and charm and make her a more likable, down to earth character. Montgomery, through Anne, is able to take situations which may seem ordinary to us and liven them up naturally, without the need for overdramatic secrets or life altering thrills. The best part is that Anne will always still remain true to Anne, if all the wiser for it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Anne of Avonlea - L.M. Montgomery

The Story...

At sixteen, Anne is grown up... almost. Her grey eyes shine like evening stars, but her red hair is still as peppery as her temper. In the years since she arrived at Green Gables as a frekle-faced orphan, she has earned the love of the people of Avonlea and a reputation for getting into scrapes. But when Anne begins her job as the new schoolteacher, the real test of her character begins. Along with teaching the three Rs, she is learning how complicated life can be when she meddles in someone else's romance, finds two new orphans at Green Gables, and wonders about the strange behaviour of the very handsome Gilbert Blythe. As Anne enters womanhood, her adventures touch the heart and the funny bone.

A Reader's Experience...

While I do recall reading the Anne books as a child, I am now finding that I somehow enjoy and get even more out of them as an adult. As I am beginning to re-read the entire series, I am already certain that it would have been an unfortunate loss had Montgomery chosen to stop writing it after the first book. It's a delight to follow such a vibrant and memorable character as Anne Shirley as she begins to move on into adulthood, and I find myself continuing to relate strongly to many of her feelings and ambitions. I admire her for her sense of devotion and compassion towards others, and I am captivated by the novel's developing sense of romance.

Anne is now a schoolteacher, who is also helping to care for orphan twins with ambitions to further her education. As a student teacher, I too feel the heavy load of responsability, high hopes for my students, and the desire for relationships built on mutual trust and inspiration which seems to affect Anne as a schoolmaster. She senses a road full of opportunity ahead of her, and while there are apprehensions about the changes moving her forward, she is very much after the thrill of the journey. I am energized by the ambition and adventure of youth, as well as the journey of curiosity and self discovery that is so thrilling for Anne. I am hoping to inspire my own youthful ambition and sense of wonder to continue to move my own story forward in to new and intriguing places.

Anne is a character who demonstrates great instincts towards the people around her, and seems to make friends, even "kindred spirits" quite naturally. She is quite gentle and sensitive when dealing with pupils in her classroom or with the twins at home. She listens to Davy's questions or Lavender's imaginings with interest and care. She is a loyal friend to many others including Paul Irving and the Harrisons, and of course Diana and Gilbert. She is a leader of the Avonlea villiage society. All of these characteristics demonstrate such strong people skills that I hope readers can pick up on and learn from. Anne seems to find the something good within everyone, even those she is not especially fond of, that they have to offer or contribute.

Oe magic element that clinches my interest in the novel is the theme of romance. It is a simple and sweet romance, even old fashioned, which to me is the essence of its charm. Anne becomes involved in the romantic tales of the Harrisons and the Irvings, as well as Diana and Fred Wright. The first two are instances of romance being re-kindled and given another chance, which to me is a beautiful and a powerful message of hope, along the lines of "if you love something let it go... if it comes back it's yours". This combined with Anne and Gilbert's changing feelings toward one another, seem to beg readers to give romance a chance. It will have it's share of heartbreak, but is a risk worth taking. Of course I love happy endings, and I believe that Anne's story at this point has only enhanced this feeling through such an uplifting sense of realistic encouragement.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery

The Story...

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever... but will the Cuthburts send her back to the orphanage? Anne knows she's not what they expected - a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she'll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anybody else, the Cuthburts agree; she is special - a girl with an enormous inagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

A Reader's Experience...

Like a comfortable old sweater, a favorite home cooked meal, or a scrapbook full of intimate and special memories, Anne of Green Gables is a delightful and timeless classic to fall in love with over and over again. She appeals to all ages as s a magnificently developed masterpiece capturing so much spirit, so much heart, and so many experiences. Montgomery writes with sensitivity and passion, exposing the heart and soul of Prince Edward Island, of family and community bonds, and of childhood realities and dreams. I can only wonder if she ever dreamed that her first novel would still be the source of such widespread impact and appeal so many years later.

As a born PEIslander, I can appreciate how Anne remains an iconic image of our sights, history, values and way of life, as well as an immense source of pride (not to mention a staple to the tourism industry). The author's description is colorful and vivid, the changes and moods of nature playing off of the changes and moods of the characters as Anne in particular interacts with the lush natural paradise around her with tenderness and facination. As readers, we can easily discover or rediscover pieces of the Island as if for the first time through Anne. It is where Anne discovers her true "home", and it serves to remind me of what a unique and special place it is to belong.

Anne of Green Gables invites readers to articulate and question what forms the bonds between family and friends and among community. As an orphan, Anne is desperate need of belonging and companionship. She is brought to the Cuthburts by chance and remains with them through choice, and it ultimately seems not only as if they were exactly what she needed, but as if she was also what they needed. Further, the community of Avonlea adopts her as their own and has developed a tight knit sense of loyalty and trust typical of small communities. Everyone knows everyone's business, everyone knows their place, and everyone has a reputation.

The author effectively represents a huge breadth of worries, challenges, joys and discoveries, and changes involved in growing up (on Anne's part) and raising a child (Matthew and Marilla's part). Anne struggles to tame her active imagination and her temper, make friends, succeed in school, learn life lessons, manage her feelings for Gilbert, accept her looks, deal with grief, and leave home, among other things. She has many first time experiences and accomplishments, from eating ice cream to passing exams. Matthew and Marilla too allow us to question how to raise our own children - to nurture, to discipline, to manage conflict, to communicate, to encourage, and to let go. Matthew and Marilla play different roles and have differing views, but it is clear that unbreakable, lifelong bonds have formed between Anne and them as her proud adoptive parents. I am amazed that the themes dealt with, using laughter and heart, are as central and prevalent now as they were back in 1908. Everything changes, of course, but some things stay the same.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Chocolate Thief - Laura Florand

The Story...

Paris - Breathtakingly beautiful, the city of light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it's a dream come true, if only she can get on infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line...

Chocolate - Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marqius. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistfull of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there's something much more delectable on the table...

Stolen Pleasure - Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

A Reader's Experience...

OK, so I am definitely not alone in admitting that chocolate is my definitive weak spot. So I spotted a novel that appeared to have turned my "Sweet tooth" in to a central passion and subject and I figured, how can I go wrong? Although the outcome of the novel is somewhat predictable, I found the characters colorful, the moments and interactions they go through entertaining, and the mood and setting enticing.

The author makes extensive, fantastic use of description - thoughts, feelings, moves - in order to create the two central characters. She is impulsive and driven, an independent go-getter who seemingly takes many risks in order to advance her career and make her dreams happen. At the same time, it is clear that she is struggling to reconcile her own dreams with the expectations of her family, which is a juggling act I feel that the majority of us will have to settle to some degree. He, too, is a dreamer who ceaseslessly endeavors to make something of himself while preserving the authenticity and skillfulness of his craft, seducing lovely women in the process.

Any time you have two willful, stubborn people with competing interests, there is bound to be drama. I was certainly amused by the banter between these characters, by how easly the dynamic could shift between them and how strongly they were drawn together. It's a kind of attraction that I can't say I've ever experienced, but the instincts and cumpulsive needs behind this developing relationship are something that the author makes very real and intriguing.

When I picture the settings of the novel - the sights, sounds, smells, tastes of a chocolate factory in the midst of Paris - I could see losing myself in it all and just soaking it in. I sense Cade's spark of adventure and the thirst to travel and explore new things, and I cannot wait to satisfy more if this curiosity within myself. There is a mood about the novel that is playful and lighthearted, with enough of a serious tone to make it believable.

The story proves that life really is a box of chocolates.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

The Story...

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old Girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty Years Later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

In Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay offers up a mesmerizing story in which a tragic past unfolds, the present is torn apart, and the future is irrevocably altered.

A Reader's Experience...

The characters in this story are a real testament to the fragility but also to the strength of the human spirit, the child's spirit and will to survive, and the need to confront reality, step forward and continue on.

Behind the tragedy and desperite circumstances of a history which I, admittedly, still have far too little awareness of, there develops a need for closure and healing which is really only beginning at the end of the novel. There are huge moral questions as to how we move on and do better to make the world a more human place, and I appreciate the fact that this novel seems to accept that while we can't undo the mistakes of the past, we do have to acknowledge what has happened and make our peace with it, especially if we don't want hisory to repeat itself.

The novel is skillfully compelling and at times surprising. The interest builds as we discover how the lives of two key characters, seperated by time and circumstance, are finally pieced together.
When I think upon the circumstances that my own future children might be living in, I know that they will have heartaches, and can only hope that they won't live through anything near what Sarah had lived through. But whatever their struggles are, I would want to set them up with the same character, intellegence, and resourcefulness to carry them through it.

An aspect of the novel that stood out for me was Julia's powerful dedication towards finding out who Sarah was and what had happened to her. It is as if she is extremely driven by some external force, as if Sarah's story is indeed the "key" to awakening a new perspective and an understanding on her own life that is essential to her ability to develop and thrive as the determined person she is. In other words, Sarah's tragedy held a greater purpose, with such strong effects lingering on some sixty years later. Who or what might be the necessary key to my life, or yours?