book review

Here’s to memories: a review of The Truth about Luck by Iain Reid

What’s a freelance writer who is a bit short on cash to do when his brother bails on their customary joint gift for Grandma’s birthday? If you’re Iain Reid, you follow said brother’s advice and give your grandmother a gift uniquely suited to you: time. The Truth about Luck is Reid’s memoir of the week he and his grandma took a staycation together. It’s an unassuming premise that unfolds into a quiet, funny, and insightful book.

Truth About Luck

“Grandma slowly brings her glass up, asking for a cheers. I clink hers with mine. ‘Here’s to stories,’ she says. ‘Old and new.’
‘And memories,’ I say.
She holds up her glass a moment longer as I take my sip. ‘Yes, she says, ‘and to not letting them go to waste.'”

– The Truth about Luck, Iain Reid

What’s a freelance writer who is a bit short on cash to do when his brother bails on their customary joint gift for Grandma’s birthday? If you’re Iain Reid, you follow said brother’s advice and give your grandmother a gift uniquely suited to you: time. The Truth about Luck is Reid’s memoir of the week he and his grandma took a staycation together. It’s an unassuming premise that unfolds into a quiet, funny, and insightful book.

Reid offers to take his 90-year-old grandmother on vacation for a week to celebrate her birthday. He doesn’t mention that due to cashflow issues, the vacation is going to take place in his apartment in Kingston, a couple of hours away from her home in Ottawa. Grandma doesn’t mind, though. In fact, she tells him that all her friends simply couldn’t believe he was doing such a nice thing for her. Reid’s guilt and neuroses that he can’t show Grandma a better time are overwhelmed by her relentless optimism and genuine pleasure at spending time with her grandson. They roadtrip together from Ottawa and over the course of the week go out for dinner, enjoying reading on rainy afternoons, take a ferry out to Wolfe Island, and find their conversation flowing more and more freely.

Continue reading “Here’s to memories: a review of The Truth about Luck by Iain Reid”

World War Z Readalong

World War Z Readalong Part 2: “Blame”

World War Z banner final

Previous readalong posts
Read Part 1: “Introduction” & “Warnings”

Part 2: Blame

The Story So Far…

In Langley, Virginia, USA, the director of the CIA Bob Archer welcomes the interviewer into his office. Archer talks about the mythical status the CIA has enjoyed as an agency of master spies who knew everything going on around the world, in every country abroad and in every home in America. They propagated that status because it created a paranoia that kept people in line, even though their reach couldn’t possibly extend that far due to budget constraints. But still, Archer says, everyone blamed he CIA for not anticipating World War Z. He credits the Chinese with “the greatest single Maskirovkas in the history of modern espionage” (loc 812), i.e. claiming that the massive “Health and Safety” sweeps they were doing when the outbreaks first started were part of a dissident crackdown and not a major health crisis.

He also blames the purges in the CIA for the lack of intel on the disease: after the last, prolonged brushfire war, the American public was exhausted and a number of CIA employees took the fall, causing the smarter among them to jump ship to the private sector in order to avoid the witch hunt, and causing a brain drain. The interviewer asks if Archer had suspicions about what was happening in China. Archer did indeed, but his doubt was brushed aside, and the Warmbrunn-Knight Report wasn’t seen by anyone in the CIA until after the Voluntary Quarantine in Israel.

CIA Headquarters. Image from GlobeXplorer.
CIA Headquarters. Image from GlobeXplorer.

Continue reading “World War Z Readalong Part 2: “Blame””

book review

Darkness fell: a review of Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

In 1939, a young woman walks into a German bar. She greets a group of people she knows sitting in the back. She steadies herself, draws her father’s revolver from her purse, and shoots Hitler. Darkness falls. On the next page, we are reintroduced to the young woman at the moment of her birth—and immediate death, because the doctor and midwife were both delayed and the cord is wrapped around her little neck.

Life after Life

“The woody fragrance of bonfire smoke drifted through the window and into the little attic room She could hear the clopping of hooves followed by the rattle of the coal as the coalman emptied his sacks into the coal shed. Life was going on. A thing of beauty.

One breath, that was all she needed, but it wouldn’t come.

Darkness fell swiftly, at first an enemy, but then a friend.”

– Life after Life, Kate Atkinson

In 1939, a young woman walks into a German bar. She greets a group of people she knows sitting in the back. She steadies herself, draws her father’s revolver from her purse, and shoots Hitler. Darkness falls. On the next page, we are reintroduced to the young woman at the moment of her birth—and immediate death, because the doctor and midwife were both delayed and the cord is wrapped around her little neck.

This dramatic juxtaposition, two very different endings to the same life, is how Kate Atkinson introduces us to her main character Ursula, and to the central conceit of her new novel, Life after Life. Jumping back and forth over a period of several decades from 1910 onward, we see Ursula die in countless ways. Drowning in the sea as a child, murdered by an abusive husband, bombed during the war. The variations are endless. And what could have been gimmicky or confusing in less talented hands becomes a tour de force for the formidable Atkinson.

Continue reading “Darkness fell: a review of Life after Life by Kate Atkinson”

World War Z Readalong

World War Z Readalong Part 1: “Introduction” and “Warnings”

World War Z banner final

Part 1: Introduction & Warnings

The Story So Far…

We begin with an explanation of what we are about read, in the clipped tones of a professional. . . or a survivor, whom I’ll refer to as the interviewer. There is no indication if this is a man or a woman, how old, or what country this interviewer is from. The world, the interviewer tells us, has been an at peace for a decade, and the interviewer has compiled information for the United Nations Postwar Report committee chronicling what has been called “The Crisis,” “The Dark Years,” “The Walking Plague,” and “World War Z.” S/he (forgive the clunky hybridized pronoun) included many human testimonials that s/he was asked to remove by the committee chairman, who only hard facts in the final report. But the interviewer believes there is great value in preserving the human element of the wartime memories—preserving, lest the stories be lost and we repeat our own mistakes. And so, the interviewer has turned these oral testimonials, which s/he has tracked down from survivors all over the world, and turned them into a book, a history of World War Z.

The first section, “Warnings,” takes us all over the globe. We begin in Greater Chongqing, China, where the interviewer talks to Kwang Jingshu, a doctor. Kwang recalls meeting Patient Zero. He was called to the village of New Dachang, whose residents had been relocated when the government needed to build a dam where their homes stood. Outside the meeting hall where the sick have been placed, he finds villagers too terrified to go inside. He is told it isn’t safe, but he dismisses their fears of sick people as peasant superstition. Inside, he finds six patients, running fevers, not coherent, and all with a bite mark somewhere on their bodies. He is surprised to see the bite marks appear human, and are very clean, showing no hint of the bacterial infection that should be common with such wounds.

Ghost City of Fengdu hillside.
Ghost City of Fengdu hillside.

Continue reading “World War Z Readalong Part 1: “Introduction” and “Warnings””

book review

Lines and linkages: a review of The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a strategic marriage and many babies. Daughter of the king’s most trusted advisor, Aoife is drawn to maps.

Mapmaker's war

“Wyl trusted you because of your work. You were a mapmaker. You had studied a navigable world in miniature, hadn’t you? But you followed more than land. You looked to the skies, the stars, the movement of birds.” 

– The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue

In a fantastical medieval kingdom, an extraordinary girl aspires to more than a strategic marriage and many babies. Daughter of the king’s most trusted advisor, Aoife (pronounced “Ee-fah”) is drawn to maps. From an early age she notices things like the geometry of spiderwebs, the planes and angles that make up the world around her. She becomes apprentice to the kingdom’s mapmaker and then succeeds him, with the help of her father and of Wyl, crown prince of the realm and childhood friend. While mapping the river that forms one of the kingdom’s borders, Aoife crosses to the other side and discovers a settlement unlike any she has ever known before: a people, a way of life, and a mythology that are truly magical.

But her discovery, and the rumours she brings back of great wealth guarded by a dragon, sparks a war. She follows Wyl , who wants more than just friendship from her, on his quest to find the dragon, while insidious younger prince Raef accelerates hostilities. Aoife finds herself with a burgeoning allegiance to the people across the river, known as Guardians. Soon her life is torn in two and she must begin again, leaving behind her family, her children, and her kingdom.

For all that I found charming  and original in this book, I was also frustrated throughout. Continue reading “Lines and linkages: a review of The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Domingue”

book review

Getting a callback: a review of Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

It’s the mid 90s, and Franny Banks is in New York City, trying to make it as an actor. She’s had a few successes–getting into a coveted acting class, working on a commercial, doing some theatre. But is it enough success to justify staying? Franny has given herself a three-year deadline.

Someday, Someday, Maybe

“I sit in the chair and do the monologue into the camera lens, my too-tight khakis split open in the back, my too-loose shirt gathered with an industrial-looking clamp sticking out from the middle of my back. From the front I look put together, but every other angle would reveal how false the front of me is, how much effort has gone into presenting a one-sided image of perfection.”

– Someday, Someday, Maybe, Lauren Graham

It’s the mid 90s, and Franny Banks is in New York City, trying to make it as an actor. She’s  had a few successes–getting into a coveted acting class, working on a commercial, doing some theatre. But is it enough success to justify staying? Franny has given herself a three-year deadline. If she can make it, really make it, as an actress in New York City by the end of those three years, she’ll keep at it. If she fails, she’ll go home and become a teacher like her dad. As the novel opens, Franny realizes she is six months away from her deadline and nowhere near fulfilling her dreams.

Debut author Lauren Graham is herself an actress who got her start in New York City. Beloved for her roles as Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and Sarah on Parenthood, it turns out Graham is no slouch at writing stories, too. Someday, Someday, Maybe is a light, charming novel, wonderfully witty and full of heart. Its setting allows for great moments of 90s nostalgia, from Franny’s dad asking her if she’s thought about “applying” to be on that Friends show everyone’s talking about to Franny’s religious use of her Filofax calendar. We get to see Franny’s actual calendar throughout the book, pages of her Filofax filled out in her handwriting and doodles (drawing of grass, note that said drawing is more interesting than her career at the moment; notes on meetings with agents, going for runs, grocery lists, doodled freakouts about possible dates). It’s a sweet way to put us directly in touch with Franny’s most private thoughts, and it’s also a cute nod to Bridget Jones’ Diary, an obvious influence.

Continue reading “Getting a callback: a review of Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham”