Tag Archives: family

The Light Keeper’s Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol

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You can’t beat a local story by a local author and this novel excels in all departments. I literally could not put this book down as it drew me into the story of the lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island and his two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. It is not possible to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged right up to the last page.

The story is also told by another key character, Morgan, whose urban life in Thunder Bay is intimately connected (but unknown to her) with the light keepers daughters. I have noted that while English literature is shaped by history, Canadian literature is dominated by the natural environment, and the point is well proven in this novel. The real star of the show is the landscape, dominated by Porphyry Island, which is almost magical in its appeal. Silver Islet, the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior also feature strongly.

Jean E. Pendziwol pulls you into her compelling narrative which contrasts the slow pace of an idyllic life growing up on Porphyry Island, to the fast pace and perils of modern city life. Porphyry was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and first lit the waters near Black Bay in 1873. Andrew Dick, the keeper on Porphyry Island from 1880 to 1910, left behind several personal journals that recorded his time at the light with his Indigenous wife Caroline and their ten children. These journals were the inspiration for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters which is a testament to the Canadian men and women who served as Great Lakes lighthouse keepers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

John Pateman is CEO/Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

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Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas

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Every year in the lead up to the holiday season, I always read a Christmas themed book or two; normally an easy romantic read and a mystery. This year’s romantic selection was “Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor” by Lisa Kleypas. Co-workers have been recommending other books by the author so when the book came across the desk as a return, I scooped it up as the cover was both simple and charming, without the cliched clinch of a happy couple or cartoony Christmas decorations meant to catch the eye.

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I found the book was as uncomplicated and pleasurable as the cover. Young widow Maggie Collins has moved to San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state to start a new life by running a toy store in the little tourist community of Friday Harbor. There she meets Mark Nolan who recently became guardian to his young niece Holly following the death of his sister, Victoria. Both are scarred by their pasts, Maggie doesn’t want to move on to a new relationship freeing the pain of loss again and Mark has always refused to commit himself emotionally due to the dysfunctional family environment who drifted into a comfortable but uninspired relationship that isn’t leading anywhere. Part of the catalyst in their coming together is Holly. Maggie instantly takes to the child and Mark finds himself opening up emotionally as he moves from Holly’s absentee uncle to her full time parent.

The writing style of the story is deceptively light and the dialogue sparkles. San Juan Island is well served by the book, for anyone who reads it will definitely want to visit, and I actually checked it out on a map and was surprised to find the Island and Friday Harbor are real places.  As the weather and the world darken, it’s time to take a moment and enjoy the simple pleasure of a cozy novel on a cold night.

The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

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There were many, many things I really liked about The Chaos. I loved how real Scotch’s voice was and her interactions with her brother and family rang very true for me. It may be a cliche for the teen girl to change into more conservative, parent-approved clothes before heading home, but it helps establish Scotch’s character and family dynamics. The Chaos is certainly an original end-of-the-world scenario in a sea of other YA apocalypses. The distorting, manipulating, oozing rolling calf was a great addition to the story, especially in opposition to the rule-dominated Russian folktale witch character (who shared many characteristics with traditional Western fairy tale witches, like the one in Hansel and Gretel). Some reviewers have complained about the inclusion of the rolling calf as they are unfamiliar with it. I think anyone familiar with fairy tales can figure out what sort of mythological being it is. And if it inspires some young person to look up rolling calf and duppies and Caribbean mythology to learn more then so much the better.

I feel a little ridiculous making the following criticism of a novel called “The Chaos”, but nonetheless: the book is a little too chaotic. I really liked the opening parts, especially the characterization of Scotch and the way she thinks about boys. I can’t remember ever reading a teen girl POV that struck me as so absolutely authentic, especially in terms of responding to the male gaze. Once the Chaos hits and things start happening – the volcano, various transformations – those authentic reactions seemed to disappear. Everyone, not just the main characters, responded extremely calmly to the situation considering what was happening. It made the stakes seem quite low. People were worrying about last family, but no one was losing their minds over the fact that the the world was absolutely mad. At one point someone suggests that the Chaos is manifesting people’s inner inner lives, but this has little resonance in terms of the story as any connections, if they exist, are very hard to decipher. Scotch’s journey is very haphazard, and

SPOILERS START HERE! SKIP IF YOU PLAN TO READ THE BOOK!

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the resolution was equal parts confusing and annoying. It’s unclear whether Scotch’s triumph meant the end of the Chaos or if they are unrelated events. On the one hand, Scotch was privy to early signs of the Chaos, so maybe she has a significant role in its outcome? But on the other, so did other school children who seem to have nothing else to do with the story. Also, we end up back in school where we began without any discussion of the repercussions of the Chaos or even an idea of what the time frame was between its end and our new present day. The lack of significant lasting impact (other than her brother reconciling with her parents, Scotch’s personal growth and her new skin colour) made the whole novel seem insubstantial. Those are significant impacts, especially Scotch’s personal growth and the meaning of her changed skin colour, but I feel like it is a bit of a poor return for the entire world gone completely insane. Scotch even keeps thinking about a dance contest throughout her ordeal, and mentions at the end that it had to be cancelled because too many participants were “missing, injured or dead.” It just all seems a bit trivial.

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I love Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber for its mix of Caribbean mythology, amazing characterization, and science fiction and hoped that The Chaos would be similarly engrossing. For me, it wasn’t; but I would certainly recommend it to teens who are bored of the zombie apocalypse, interested in strong, active female characters, looking for representations of their culture and experiences, and like creative imaginary worlds.

A Duty to the Dead : A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

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Bess Crawford is a young nurse serving on the hospital ship “Britannic” when it hits a mine and sinks in the ocean near Turkey during the First World War.  While she survives, with only a broken arm, it’s enough to send her back home to England to recuperate and to pass on a message given to her by a dying soldier of whom she was very fond.  The message consists of “Tell Jonathan I lied. I did it for Mother’s sake. But it has to be set right.”  Dutifully, Bess heads to Kent to fulfill her duty and stumbles into a mystery that may be more dangerous that the war.

Bess is the kind of character you’d like to get to know, or someone you’d like to be,  she’s smart and capable and willing to take risks when she sees something needs to be done.  While she’s a strong woman,  the writer’s have resisted making her too modern, so her behaviour conforms to her time period.

Charles Todd is the pseudoymn of the writing team of Charles Todd and his mother, Caroline who also write the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries.  The Rutledge mysteries are set following the First World War while the Bess Crawford series is setting during the actual war.  I’ve always loved this period, especially as mysteries and the Todd’s do a brilliant job capturing the mood of a country at war and the lives of the ordinary population who struggle to make sense of something that is completely senseless.

Stitches by David Small

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Highly recommended! If you haven’t read a graphic novel before, make this your first!

This memoir is AMAZING. It is so powerful – so heart-wrenching – so disturbing – and so true. Hopefully none of us endured a childhood as devastating as David Small, but he has managed to make his experiences painfully relatable. I haven’t lived precariously, unsure of my relationships to others and especially my own body; but after reading Stitches I have a bit of an idea how it might feel.

David Small’s father treated childhood sinus infections with copious amounts of radiation. Unsurprisingly, he developed a growth on his neck. Shockingly, his parents and doctor responded to this very casually and he wasn’t operated on until three and a half years after his diagnosis.  He woke from the operation to find himself nearly mute with a horrific gash across his neck.

The story begins at age six and the operation isn’t until his early teens. This record of his early life echoes with enforced silence and David’s lack of voice and autonomy even before any surgical intervention.  Family relationships are exposed in their rawest form and the reader is left amazed at how anyone could possibly emerge from such an upbringing to live a positive life.

There are pages of this book that I had to close, put down, and think about before moving on (look out for any dream sequences). The images are so haunting. Some stories are just especially well-served by having accompanying illustrations and this is one of them. The reader experiences the shock of seeing David’s scar for the first time with him and acts as a witness to various other significant images.  Many pages have no words at all and are simply drawings. It sounds trite, but some of these pages say far more than those with dialogue.

This is one of those stories that reinforce our simultaneous belief in the human spirit’s resilience and the human being’s capacity for cruelty. It also serves to remind us that we never really know each other’s stories until we ask. Nothing about Small’s career as a successful children’s author and illustrator hints at the darkness and drive to survive outlined in Stitches.

 

Wishin’ And Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb

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Hi. I’ve wanted to read this book since late 2009. It was a 7 day book and I was busy, then I forgot about it. On a recent trip to Brodie I spotted it on a display shelf. Well – it was sure worth the wait. I read it on a cold winter’s day. It was a pleasure to read.

Set in a small Connecticut town in the 1960’s its the tale of the Funicello family. Yes, Funicello. It’s life through the eyes of 10 year old Felix Funicello, whose Dad is a cousin of Annette Funicello, former Mousketeer and later famed beach bunny. For someone who actually owns a movie featuring Annette & Frankie, this book was right up my alley.

Felix attends Parochial School and the novel centers around plans for the school Christmas pageant. It was a treat to read, very funny and brought back so many memories, incuding this old commercial – “What’s for dinner?” “Mom made Shak’n’Bake and ah hailped”. It also reminded me that it’s been years since I’ve had an orange soda with vanilla ice cream float. Yum.

It also features a t.v. appearance for his Mom in a Pillesbury Bake Off.  A nervous stomach results in her on screen appearance featuring a toilet paper tail. Anyway, if you’re in the need of a good laugh, give the Funicello family a try. Who knows – you might even see Annette. Enjoy. Karen

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington

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This 1918 novel begins with: “Major Amberson had ‘made a fortune’ in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.’ Set in a fictional town in the mid-west of the United States, the story is a snapshot in time describing the downfall of the rich and powerful family over a period of three generations. It is wonderfully illustrative, describing the gradual influence of the industrial age and the introduction of innovative inventions. Those who didn’t keep up were sooner or later left along the wayside, while automobiles and the like made their irrevocable mark on the landscape. Life became faster; fashions changed to comply with new discoveries; towns grew into cities as industry expanded; and attitudes altered towards the idle rich.

George Amberson Minafer, the major’s grandson, is the main character of the story. Spoiled to excess by his adoring mother, and despised by the townsfolk for his arrogant sense of entitlement and bullying ways, he is incapable of looking beyond the milieu of old money and his own self-importance. Those forced to suffer him on a daily basis, long for the day when he will finally get his ‘comeuppance.’

Unfortunately for young George, he falls in love with Lucy, the daughter of Eugene Morgan, an inventor of automobiles and a forward-looking entrepreneur. Eugene is new money and a threat to everything George stands for. Eugene was also almost engaged to George’s mother, Isabelle, and although she went on to marry George’s father and remained loyal and devoted to him, the sparks never totally died between Eugene and Isabelle.

Young George’s bitter stubbornness and old-school sense of propriety land him in more than one spot of bother, and as the family fortune diminishes and the Amberson name slips further into obscurity, the old townsfolk, if they would have remembered them, would have been quite satisfied to see that George finally did get what he deserved.

This is a most enjoyable read. Winner of the 1919 Pulitzer Prize and number 100 on the Modern Library`s list of top fiction, it gives a remarkable insight into the attitudes and lifestyles of people living at the time – of their foppery as well as their hardships; of their initial resistance to new inventions; and the manner in which people adapted old societal standards and re-invented a new, bold society.

It`s interesting how a lot of people initially reacted towards automobiles as they first went tearing about the countryside. The drivers and their passengers would often be assailed with cries of ‘git a hoss’ by baffled onlookers who couldn`t comprehend that the noisy vehicles could ever be more than a passing fad.

Rosemary