Author Archives: jaegard

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

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This elegantly written book shows just how connected we all are.  Here in Thunder Bay, it’s common to discover you have something or someone in common to almost everyone you meet.  The “one degree of separation” phenomenon is understandable in a city the size of ours, but could it work in the metropolis of New York?  This book proves it can, and one incredible dress is the touchstone that unites a group of nine diverse women.  It’s appropriate that the dress at the centre of this book is an iconic little black dress.  The dress takes on a mantle of magic as it fills a specific need for each woman that wears it.   The dress is created by a pattern maker at the end of his career, so it’s special as soon as it’s made.  A fresh off the bus model has the privilege to wear it first, and is an instant star.  After that the dress becomes the main character of the story.  Rosen gives the nine women their own chapter and voice, as their lives intersect with the dress. The dress works its magic in the lives of a Bloomingdales sales girl, a private detective, and a personal assistant, among others.  Rosen’s writing is a delight to read, and helps keep all the stories straight.  Readers discussing this book online have shared their own stories of life-changing moments, revealing that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

 

Mount! by Jilly Cooper

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I was thrilled to spot a new book by one of my favourite authors on display at the Brodie Library a few months ago, and it didn’t disappoint. Jilly Cooper is popular British writer who has a passion for horses, and a knack for relationships. Her newest book, Mount! focusses on Rupert Campbell-Black’s horse racing empire.  Rupert was introduced in Cooper’s first book, Riders, as a fun-loving young playboy who goes on to win an Olympic gold medal in show jumping. Nine books later he hasn’t changed much. Mount! begins with a descriptive list of both human and animal characters, which I skipped over at first, but did find handy to refer to when reading. Rupert doesn’t like to lose, and runs his racing and breeding stables with a firm hand. His staff of grooms and trainers live on his estate and for the most part get along as they are all horse lovers.

Ambition, loyalty and Rupert’s laser-focus on winning take their toll however, and this is where Cooper’s skilled writing about relationships shines. The story starts with a flash back to Rupert’s great (x 6) grandfather’s ill-fated horse race through a spooky wood.  This plants many seeds for the rest of the book, including rivalry, revenge and family ties. Cooper brings in characters from her other books, but I don’t think you need to have read them to enjoy Mount! International intrigue is woven into the story as Rupert travels to expand his business. Mount! is a big juicy story which takes readers within the high-stakes world of horse racing.

 

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

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This is the story of how Phil Knight found his purpose in life, and grew one of the world’s best-known brands around it.  In addition to being the epitome of a successful entrepreneur, Phil Knight is a skilled writer.  I have read many biographies about fascinating people who just don’t have the gift of good writing, so it is a rare treat to get both in one book.

The story starts in the late 1950s when Phil is a fresh college graduate who likes to run.  He weaves a great deal of personal and social history in to the story of his business.  Knight talks about how running wasn’t the common leisure activity it has grown into today.  When he started in the shoe business his market was college, high school and serious track athletes.  He dreamed of a time when people would wear his shoes to the grocery store, or to take their kids to school.  If you own a pair of Nikes you know that dream has come true!

Another key part of the Nike story is Knight’s work networking and working with business people in China and Japan, and how shoe factories evolved. The history of the iconic Nike swoosh is included in this book, as well as the easy to spot bright orange shoe boxes.  One aspect of Knight’s story I found interesting was how he built his core team of trusted colleagues.  His former track coach, who he both admired and feared, was his first business partner.  This man had been tinkering with track shoes his whole life, and was fascinated with the developments that were possible to make his athletes run faster.  Knight engaged others who were keen marketers, savvy negotiators and tireless innovators.

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Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

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This quirky book focusses on Etta, a retired prairie emma2school teacher who decides to fulfill a lifelong dream to see the Atlantic Ocean.  And, she decides to walk there.  She leaves a note for her husband Otto asking him not to follow her, and sets off one morning.  As with many literary journeys, hers is both physical and spiritual.  Etta reflects on her life as she walks, revealing how she happened into a job at a dusty one room school house, fell in love with a boy who was sent off to war, and ended up marrying another.  She becomes a reluctant celebrity as her journey is observed, documented and celebrated by people along the way.  Like Forrest Gump, she never asks for help on her walk, but folks are happy to provide it. An interesting twist is that James, a fox, joins Etta early in her walk and becomes her advisor and protector.  Etta’s memories paint a picture of how the war years deeply impacted daily life on the prairies — both the lives of communities and the lives of individuals. Otto, the husband Etta leaves behind, comforts himself by baking his way through Etta’s recipe box.  This is Emma Hooper’s first book and it has been translated into 18 languages, which attests to its universal appeal. She is definitely a writer to watch! This  book was chosen as Edmonton Public Library’s “One Book:  One Community” book last Fall.  Our own “One Book: One Community” book was recently announced, and is Amy Jones’ “We’re all in this together”.  Watch our website www.tbpl.ca/onebook for more information about what we have planned.

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In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

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Judy Blume is known for writing about teen angst in books like “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret”. She has written several books for adults as well, and “In the unlikely event” is her latest. The story centers on a series of real-life plane crashes which Blume, herself, experienced as a teen, and spirals out into the many lives that are changed, redirected and influenced by the tragedies. While the main character is a teenager, a wide-range of adult issues are addressed in Blume’s characteristic insightful prose.

Fact meets fiction as Blume weaves the stories of those who perished in the real crashes into her story. The website http://www.nj.com documents the disasters, and includes historic photographs. On this website Vicki Hyman writes: “One plane crash is a tragedy. Two in the same city is a catastrophe. And three is simply unfathomable. But that is just what happened in Elizabeth over a 58-day period in the early 1950s, a turbulent time for the historic city in the shadow of Newark Airport, and one that serves as the backdrop for Judy Blume‘s new novel…”.

At times I found the cast of characters a bit too long and got their stories mixed up. In her review in Chatelaine, Sarah Liss describes the cast as a “constellation of characters” (www.chatelaine.com). I think an annotated list, like a dramatis personae in a play, would have been useful to keep them straight.

The book’s blurb mentions a commemoration of the crashes decades after the events, which I felt was not given enough attention in the story. Blume reunites the characters and reveals that some things have changed, and some have not.

Personally I think the cover of this book needs a makeover. It’s drab and unexciting. I understand that the story is not a bright happy one, but I think book covers should entice readers and not discourage them. Don’t let the boring cover discourage you!

Despite these shortcomings, “In the unlikely event” is a well-written, tightly woven story. It gives life to historical events of the 1950s including the growth of commercial air travel, the frontier feeling of the development of Las Vegas and the evolving roles of women.

 

 

 

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

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This smoothly written story provides insightful perspective on the bumpy issue of dying with dignity. A woman, Kate, who is used to being in control in her home, family and community is diagnosed with terminal cancer and struggles with loss on many levels. Her independent daughter Ellen is summoned to care for her and the two women suddenly find themselves out of their comfort zones in many ways.

Their forced intimacy sheds light on both their relationship with each other and their previously “normal” lives. Kate is determined to decorate a tree for the town’s Christmas display, a project she has coordinated for many years. Ellen reluctantly helps make ornaments under her mother’s watchful eye, and comes to understand the meaning this work brought to Kate’s life. Kate directs Ellen as she hangs the ornaments, passing on her wisdom that bigger and brighter is better, when things are seen from a distance. An interesting aspect of this book is the roles that men play. Ellen learns her father has been keeping up appearances as well — perhaps too well. It is he who insists Ellen be the one to care for his wife, while he continues his career and philandering at the local college. Ellen’s brother joins the family for Thanksgiving, and delights Kate with a reckless ride down the street in her wheelchair. Ellen is bewildered by this as Kate previously refused to be taken out in the offensive wheelchair. The prodigal son returns? Ellen’s boyfriend shows his true colours during the time she is caring for Kate. He is selfish, unsupportive and ultimately their relationship ends. This book will strike a chord with most people due to its themes, and although written twenty years ago it is relevant today.

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The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou

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The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou (2011, Brindle & Glass) offers insight into Canadian mountain village lifestyles and culture while at the same time addressing larger themes with which readers can relate.  The Canterbury Trail tells the story of a mis-matched bunch of skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers who set out in small groups to enjoy one last Spring weekend of back country adventure. Their relationships, connections and loyalties are put to the tests of Mother Nature, and being forced to all share a small remote cabin in the mountains.  Abdou loosely borrows the structure from Chaucer’s great English classic The Canterbury Tales, as she devotes each early chapter to one character then brings them together for their pilgrimage. A hermit, photo_angiebrockwho has grown into a local legend of sorts, rounds out the story. He has withdrawn from society yet works at maintaining trails for others to enjoy the mountains. Abdou weaves the themes of generations, marriage, friendship and our relationship with the environment together expertly. This book allows readers to experience the landscape, weather and feel of the mountains. It also draws the reader into the personal struggles of the characters and how they deal with the tangled relationships in their lives.

Joanna Aegard, Thunder Bay Public Library