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review 2020-03-02 22:54
February / Lisa Moore
February - Lisa Moore

In 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during a Valentine's Day storm. All eighty-four men aboard died. February is the story of Helen O'Mara, one of those left behind when her husband, Cal, drowns on the rig. It begins in the present-day, more than twenty-five years later, but spirals back again and again to the "February" that persists in Helen's mind and heart.


Writing at the peak of her form, her steadfast refusal to sentimentalize coupled with an almost shocking ability to render the precise details of her characters' physical and emotional worlds, Lisa Moore gives us her strongest work yet. Here is a novel about complex love and cauterizing grief, about past and present and how memory knits them together, about a fiercely close community and its universal struggles, and finally about our need to imagine a future, no matter how fragile, before we truly come home.

 

Lisa Moore must have lost a significant someone in her life, she writes so eloquently of grief and the process of putting one’s life back together again after a tremendous loss. In addition to that, she writes like a dream! The combination makes this an excellent book.

”Helen unlocks her front door holding an armful of groceries, and there are three empty floors and silence. It is a relief. Solitude, she thinks, is a time-release drug, it enters the system slowly and you become addicted. It’s not an addiction; it’s a craft. You open the closet doors very carefully so loneliness doesn’t pounce out.”


Moore leads the reader through jumps in time, from when Helen O’Mara had first met her husband, the births of their three children, his death in the Ocean Ranger oil rig disaster, and the hard work that the family does to overcome this tragic loss. If you’ve read about the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance), you’ll recognize them all. Also their recurring nature, repeating on you when you least expect it.

There’s no such thing as closure, but there is such a thing as building a new life. Some days, you have to retreat to your bedroom and hide from the world and some days, like Helen in her yoga class, you can say, “I am ready for the warrior poses.”

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review 2020-02-27 21:24
A Crown of Swords / Robert Jordan
A Crown of Swords - Robert Jordan

In this volume, Elayne, Aviendha, and Mat come ever closer to the bowl ter'angreal that may reverse the world's endless heat wave and restore natural weather. Egwene begins to gather all manner of women who can channel--Sea Folk, Windfinders, Wise Ones, and some surprising others. And above all, Rand faces the dread Forsaken Sammael, in the shadows of Shadar Logoth, where the blood-hungry mist, Mashadar, waits for prey.

 

I think I’m losing steam as this series keeps getting drawn out! I started this tome somewhat reluctantly, thinking, “Jeez, book 7. You’d think the guy could wind this up!” And he really does seem to dawdle along with the action. We follow so many characters and get nitty gritty detail about each one. Although I prefer fantasy over every other genre, I sometimes feel this series really pushes my patience!

But here’s the thing--Jordan knows how to END an installment. Suddenly, in the last pages of the book, stuff happens! Things that startle and intrigue. Things that make you wonder what will happen in the NEXT book. This is what this author excels at--ending with a bang that sends the reader on to the next volume. For example, the return of Lan. Unexpected, but welcome.

So I started with relative indifference but I will look forward to The Path of Daggers.

Book number 356 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-02-19 22:46
The Sparrow / Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be "human". 

 

4.25 stars

I enjoy First Contact stories and this was a particularly good one. I think my enjoyment of it was increased by reading it soon after Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, about a man who worked (sometimes with, sometimes against) the Jesuits in 17th century French Canada. Since a Jesuit priest, Emilio, is the main character in this novel, the historical context really helped me to appreciate him and his actions.

I found the switching between chapters set on Earth and those set on Rakhat to be very effective. Russell could reveal just enough in one setting to make the reader think they know something and then in the next section show how our assumptions can be dead wrong.

Although I thought that the humans’ easy ability to eat the flora and fauna of Rakhat to be a bit unlikely, I found their confusion and incorrect assumptions about the beings that they encountered to be wholly believable. Despite Emilio’s extreme talent as a linguist and language learner, it is difficult enough for us to understand the cultures of other Earthlings, let alone that of beings on another planet.

It wasn’t until the very last pages of the book that the title became clear to me, but once it came into focus, I appreciated it’s subtlety. A very interesting book and one which I will continue to think about for days to come.

Book number 355 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2020-02-19 22:43
The Sanctuary Sparrow / Ellis Peters
The Sanctuary Sparrow - Ellis Peters

In the gentle Shrewsbury spring of 1140, the midnight matins at the Benedictine abbey suddenly reverberate with an unholy sound—a hunt in full cry. Persued by a drunken mob, the quarry is running for its life. When the frantic creature bursts into the nave to claim sanctuary, Brother Cadfael finds himself fighting off armed townsmen to save a terrified young man. Accused of robbery and murder is Liliwin, a wandering minstrel who performed at the wedding of a local goldsmith's son. The cold light of morning, however, will show his supposed victim, the miserly craftsman, still lives, although a strongbox lies empty. Brother Cadfael believes Liliwin is innocent, but finding the truth and the treasure before Liliwin's respite in sanctuary runs out may uncover a deadlier sin than thievery—a desperate love that nothing, not even the threat of hanging, can stop.

 

It’s been quite a while since I visited Brother Cadfael and perhaps because of that time lapse, I really enjoyed this novel. There truly aren’t too many options for murder in the 12th century, so one story is very like the last. I would classify these books as “cozy mysteries,” and it surprises me how much I like them, not usually being a fan of the cozy. I think it’s the historical nature of the tales that grabs me. It’s like learning history by osmosis while enjoying a good story.

Probably it also helped that I felt like I was getting away with something! I have a stack of previously signed out library books and theoretically this one should have waited until I made some progress on them. Instead, I plunged into this one right away and finished it in only an evening.

Peters does such a wonderful job of populating the abbey with the full spectrum of human frailties! The arrogant, the snob, the teacher, the compassionate, the seeker of justice, everybody is present and we get to observe their interactions. Her grasp of human behaviour is so accurate!

The result may not be tremendously surprising, but the journey is always enjoyable.

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review 2020-02-16 22:18
Bush Runner / Mark Bourrie
Bush Runner : the Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson - Mark Bourrie

Murderer. Salesman. Pirate. Adventurer. Cannibal. Co-founder of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is perhaps best described, writes Mark Bourrie, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party to the Dutch and crossed the Atlantic to Holland—thus beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts; witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire; and unwitting agent of the Jesuits’ corporate espionage, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Artic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which operates today, 350 years later, as North America’s oldest corporation.

 

I remember first hearing about Radisson and Groseilliers in about Grade 5, when I think they were called “explorers” or “fur traders.” I also recall my mother calling them Radishes and Gooseberries. Imagine my surprise to find that Groseilliers actually does mean gooseberries!

In many ways, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is a better and a worse man than you would expect from the few facts that I encountered in grade school. He seems to have been able to roll along with whatever situation he encountered, looking for an upside or an opportunity. He also seems to have had a natural aptitude for languages which stood him in good stead. On the poor side, he seemed to be motivated almost entirely by profit and was willing to abandon or double-cross his friends and business partners whenever it was convenient for him.

Why should we be interested in the man? As the author states in his introduction: He’s living with Indigenous people in North America. He’s with Charles II of England and his court of scoundrels, traitors, and ex-pirates. He’s in England during the Great Plague. He’s in London during the Great Fire. He’s set upon by spies. He’s in the Arctic. Then he’s with pirates in the Caribbean. After that, he’s at Versailles. And then the Arctic again. Along the way, he crosses paths with the most interesting people of his day. He’s the Forrest Gump of his time.

I can’t help but think that Radisson could have achieved a lot more if he hadn’t been quite so fixated on the fur trade. He could have lived a good life among the Iroquois or the Mohawk, but his restless nature wouldn’t let him settle. A bit of a conman, he couldn’t happily just live a normal life.

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