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review 2017-04-25 08:48
The Opening Sky doesn't reveal much, if anything.


If the sky opens in author Joan Thomas's novel, The Opening Sky, it doesn't reveal much. This could be a story about your neighbours and is about as interesting.


Aiden and Liz are a career oriented, upper middle class couple with a daughter, Sylvie, in college. Liz is the director of the non-profit Sexuality Education Resource Centre and Aiden is a therapist.


Their comfortable lives begin to unravel, not a lot mind you, when their daughter becomes pregnant.


This unwanted pregnancy is what drives the novel, though with such a tepid conflict suffice to say it never really gets out of first gear.


While many novels take ordinary people in less than good circumstances and have them step up and do heroic deeds, Thomas's characters do just the opposite, despite ideal circumstances and training they come up short.


Liz seems to define herself by her good taste in decorating, clothes, gourmet cooking, living in the right neighbourhood and holidaying in the trendy destinations. It takes all her time, energy and focus - which is why she does it.


Aiden is one of those people who espouse liberal ideals but does not have the guts to follow through. He subsequently feels powerless and impotent though it's by his own doing - or not doing.


Sylvie is an only child, naive and unrealistic in her cocoon of entitlement, who is constantly proselytizing about how people should make sacrifices to save the planet while having yet to experience life other than attending college and living in a dorm, both funded by her parents.


All the characters in this novel are not only unsympathetic, but insipid. Though at times the plot smolders, it never bursts into flames.


The only redeeming quality in this novel is Thomas's exceptional writing. Unfortunately, whereas a good story can overcome bad writing, the opposite is never true.



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review 2014-09-16 00:00
The Opening Sky
The Opening Sky - Joan Thomas Received a copy of The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review

"People with a seamless view of the world are intimidating, even when they're full of shit."

There is a highly-involved family drama that is going on in this story that is relevant to the people of Wolseley as well as to those across the country. It seems that every member of the Phimister-Glasgow clan with all of their varying personalities are going through their own personal crises and anxieties about their current place in life. All of the members of this family are troubled by past experiences, present circumstances, and future repercussions. The author is continuously on the precipice of a grand reveal while still leaving the reader in the dark with the true heart of the families disconnect.

Sylvie Phimister-Glasgow is a nineteen-year-old young lady with great visions for the world. She is a vivacious and an emboldened university student from Wolseley, Winnipeg, Manitoba whose ambitions know no bounds. The heart of her ideals are based on the fundamental principles of environmental-consciousness for which she practices on a daily basis with hopes of advancing it professionally through studying botany. She is a member of many groups that are focused on environmentally-friendly actions rather than spreading the word that often falls on deaf ears. Together, with a few of her fellow tree-huggers they're working on a theatrical play to help aid in their activism. Her voice is the strongest and most pervasive of the group which has made her the de facto leader, a role she has definitely taken to heart.

" 'Yeah, right.' Liz was eating an apple. She finished it and opened her windows, and the noise of the highway roared into the car.
Sylvie lowered the binoculars. 'Hey!'
'It's an apple core.'
'Mom! It will attract mice to the side of the road.'
'And the mice will attract eagles. And the eagles will get hit by cars.'

Most people opine that in strong relationships opposites attract. Perhaps that rule applies to more frivolous matters like favourite sports teams, but not when it comes to the environmental preservation. Sylvie's boyfriend Noah Oliphant is studying to earn his master's degree in environmental microbiology and biotechnology at the University of Guelph. They've been in a relationship for over a year and are currently trying to make it work despite not seeing each other for months at a time. Noah and Sylvie used to be best friends growing up as children. Playing in the sand, forest, and lake together is where they found their passion and saw the beauty in the world around them. But after an unfortunate accident at the playground in alliance with the overreaction of overbearing mothers of small children their friendship ended that fateful afternoon. It wasn't until ten years later at a local lake that they were able to rekindle their friendship and develop much more of a physical relationship outside of a misplaced swing. Over time and cross-provincial distance they have maintained a loving relationship from their summer at the cabin into their current lives of post-secondary students.

Sylvie has always preferred a natural way of living, making use of her food wastes, being a valued shopper at second-hand stores, protecting water systems, denying pharmaceuticals, processed goods, animal tested products and other by-products. One day Noah strongly suggests that Sylvie go against her principles regarding oral contraceptives and go on the birth control pill. He is simply doing this for his own personal pleasure and career security since he is a pledged member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. He would rather secure his values than those of Sylvie's by her facing a moral dilemma regarding contraceptions. Begrudgingly she agrees to go on the pill, but over time she feels like it is having adverse effects and a visit to the doctor will give her conclusive reasoning for her pessimism.

Liz Glasgow is the executive director at the regional Sexual Education Resource Centre. A centre that promotes safe sex and pro-choice. Liz is a very intelligent, vulnerable, well-meaning, and cultured woman that seems to come across as a know-it-all, stubborn, authoritative, and immovable mom, husband, and boss. The root of her issues with Sylvie and Aiden are not known until the end and provide a black cloud throughout the course of the novel. I know Sylvie is studying "plant" sciences, but she is not showing a whole lot of love to her mother Liz, with whom she refers to on a first name basis. Periodically Sylvie resists including her mom in typical maternal responsibilities, doing whatever it takes to avoid coming home and isolating herself to the basement if she does. After one auspicious day several years ago, Liz decided to take Sylvie to Minnesota under the appearance that they were going to go shopping at the Mall of America, when in reality the sole purpose was to go to a nearby renaissance reenactment festival after their shopping spree. At that moment in time, at that role-playing party, their lives and their relationship as they once knew it would be changed for the foreseeable future.

"Years ago, when things were so bad with Sylvie (until they settled into it, you might say), she contemplated going to a counsellor. What stopped her was knowing the way therapists operate. A therapist would set out to tear down the beautiful structure she had managed to build of her life, though given less than ideal materials That's what they do; it's their modus operandi. They strip away your ways of managing, ways that might be flawed and even duplicitous but are better than not managing at all."

Aiden Phimister has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English, Master of Arts in English, Master of Family and Individual Therapy. He has been unable to commit to a single profession for more than ten years since he was first out of school. For the past six years he's settled down and has his own therapeutic practice which has faced plenty of struggles and provided a lack of financial security at home. Aiden and Sylvie have a healthy relationship. Aiden usually finds himself as the middleman in the lines of communication between Sylvie and Liz, but given his disposition he doesn't seem to mind all that much. Outside of the house Aiden is responsible for his father Rupert who has dementia and if we let the facts be known, doesn't have a whole lot of love for his son. With his two brothers nowhere to be found, Aiden has had his father thrust upon him. Throughout the novel he is trying to find the perfect balance between father and son, father and daughter, and husband and wife. No wonder he needs the odd weed relief, this man's plate is full.

At points I was reminded of the book We Need To Talk About Kevin. The culture, the progressive lifestyles, environmental sensibilities, love of food, varying differences of affection between mother and father all in an urban setting. Obviously the lead characters don't go as far off the deep end as the other book, but there were some striking similarities. The author writes with a contemporary, methodical, decadent, atmospheric and deliberate style that intertwines the dynamics between the darkness and the light, the past and the present, marriage and parenthood, and the beauty and the horrors that come along with it.

"The longing she feels for Noah is studying as sharp as a knife - she could cry for how much she wants him. Her breasts are all in lumps because there are little sacs swollen with milk inside them like the seeds of a pomegranate. She can't bear to think of him seeing her. Noah is one thing, whole; he's like a tree that grew up in the shape it was supposed to have. And Sylvie... she's crooked and mangled and grafted together, someone who wants so badly not to be who she is that she is no one at all. And yet, if you'd asked her anytime in the past year, "Does Noah love you?" she would have said yes without a second thought."

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review 2010-05-11 00:00
Curiosity - Joan Thomas I cannot continue. What I have discovered is that both Remarkable Creatures and Curiosity accurately depict the time period and its religious turmoil. The depiction is spot-on, but to me suffocating. I cannot deal with the "oh-so-proper" dialogue of the upper-class people. Whether Mary becomes hopelessly infatuated with Colonel Birch or Henry De la Beche is not interesting to me. I am at fault, not the book. I should not have picked up this book in the hope that it would give me enjoyment. I should have realized that such a topic as this was doomed to failure for me, me being whom I am. Joan Thomas was very kind to send this book to me. She was kind; I was an idiot! Those who appreciate Victorian literature - give it a try! You will probably love it!I know, I know, the time period of the book is a bit before the Victorian era, but it fits anyhow. It is better than Remarkable Creatures. I will send this book on to another person in the hope that she DOES enjoy it. I wish I could hide my head in a paper bag......

Through page 148: Oh, sometimes this is so boring..... I hate reading about high-society life. Polite luncheon talk. False standards, hypocrisy and pretensions, it drives me up a tree. OK, this WAS how life was in Bristol, but it is not my cup of tea! Please, when is Henry moving to Lyme Regis....anything to leave this setting!

Through page 120: I clearly enjoy this book more than [b:Remarkable Creatures|6457081|Remarkable Creatures|Tracy Chevalier|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ZKCbA0NEL._SL75_.jpg|6647405]. There is humor. There is irony. There are beautiful descriptive passages of the Dorset landscape. Often the humor is tongue in cheek. On page 107 one reads:

He's speaking jovially, man to man. "How could I have foreseen such a thing? No one could have! However, with respect to yourself and your recent history, I can assure you I was the soul of discretion. The very soul." He tugs at his night cap, which seems to have shrunk in the laundry.

It is the last sentence I find amusing. This proper, aristocratic being is just like all the of us - troubled by laundry and ill-fitting clothes.

Or this comment from Henry:

"They shuffle along the ground, a modest, nervous bird. I watched them as a boy. The male and female are identical. I found a nest close to here, with eggs. Blue, like a robin's. Except for one larger egg, which was grey. They are often host to cuckoos, inadvertent hosts. Rather like my uncle Alger's situation at the moment."

Henry is currently living with his uncle Alger!

I love the line:

"She wears her nothing can touch me face."
We all know how that looks!

The huge science vesus religion controversy of the time is central to both books. The stratification of society and the repression of women is another common denominator. In Curiosity the chapters alternate between Henry and Mary, while in Remarkable Creatures they alternate between Mary and Elizabeth Philpot, but in Thomas' book there is humor and happiness too. Henry's teenage fixation on women is amusing. Mary's vibrant curiosity and relentless struggle to make sense of both the accepted "religious truths" and science is invigorating. The atmosphere in Curiosity is lighter, although the same dilemas are focused upon. I simply did not like the chemistry between Mary and Elizabeth.

I received this book directly from the author. I wish to thank her very much for sending me the book! I was interested in comparing this book with [b:Remarkable Creatures|6457081|Remarkable Creatures|Tracy Chevalier|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ZKCbA0NEL._SL75_.jpg|6647405]. Although both books cover the same subject how will they differ? I found Chevalier's portrayl bleak and dismal.

I must say I love the cover to the hardcover edition sent to me. It is the 1830 watercolor painting done by Hnry De la Beche entitled Dunia Antiquior. It shows the prehistoric creatures of the fossilized skeletons which Mary discovered. Henry had the artist George Scharf make lithographic prints of his original painting. They were sold to aid Mary Anning financially.
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review 2009-09-07 00:00
Reading by Lightning - Joan Thomas I was frequently blown away by Thomas' use of language and the books general smartness. Told almost entirely from Lily's point of view (there are a couple of sections that tell the story of her father's arrival in Canada that provide a break from Lily) I felt that the novel's energy was hampered by Lily's inability(?) to emotionally (and to a certain extent intellectually) engage with the people that surround her. Even the England section were Lily is seemingly happy is restrained. I wonder if maybe the control over the language and the ideas did in the overall development of the novel? Nonetheless, I thought it a stellar read, if for the language alone, and will recommend it to others.
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