Tag Archives: family

Three Junes: How to start your new year of reading right.

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Almost in time for Christmas I finished Julia Glass’s Three Junes, the last of the Christmas gift books from 2016. Why did I wait?! (Okay, it wasn’t on purpose. I kept the stack of Christmas books by my bed and picked one up everytime I had a lull between book club books, or top recommended, or stumbled-upon-it-and-couldn’t-resist). Anyway. Glad I finally read it. Glad for the gift (thanks, mum) and glad to be able to share it with you.

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Fiction, National Book Award, Prize Winner

The Association of Small Bombs: The Book You Won’t See On the Display Table, But Should Definitely Seek Out.

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Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs was on the New York Times list for the best books of 2016. I went through the list and requested books at the library, most of the list had a wait list dozens, or hundreds, deep. Not so for The Association of Small Bombs. It was on the shelf at my preferred location. Maybe because I was requesting books the same day the list came out? Or maybe because readers are silly and thought they wouldn’t like a book about terrorism in India? Whatever the case: be me and get yourself to the front of the line to read this one. It’s terrific. Continue reading

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Filed under Fiction, New York Times Notable, Uncategorized

In the Unlikely Event: It’s Just Not that Good.

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Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event is about three plane crashes in eight weeks and the effect of such trauma on the citizens of the small town of Elizabeth where the novel (and ‘real’ historical experience) is set.

I say it’s about the effect of the trauma on the citizens, and I do think it’s meant to be about that, but it mostly reads like a novel that wants to describe three plane crashes and then looks for characters to justify this plot. Continue reading

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Filed under Book Club, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction

Everything I Never Told You: Secrets, Lies and Misunderstandings

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One of the questions at the heart of Celeste Ng’s excellent Everything I Never Told You is what might be the difference among secrets, lies and silences, and where responsibility falls for speaking (truth or lies) and for listening.

At first blush the novel is about unravelling mystery and secrets. The opening sentence “Lydia is dead,” invites the immediate line of questioning of who, what, when, where and how. Talk about using conflict to drive plot. In exploring the mystery of her death we learn of Lydia’s family – Marilyn, James, Nath and Hannah – and how they collectively and individually both keep secrets and assign meaning to one another’s behaviours (and silences).

To me the most engrossing parts of the novel are those when characters inaccurately – and frustratingly – ascribe meaning to someone else. Layers of misunderstanding and misinterpretation are confounded by a resolute and seemingly intractable refusal to ask one another about the validity of these (deeply held) (and false) beliefs. Of course the more certain we are of the motivations and beliefs of those we love the less likely we are to realize we might be best off checking whether these are, after all, true. Hardly the case that those we love are lying to us, or keeping secrets, rather the responsibility for the falsehood is ours as we fail to check our assumptions and instead walk around certain of the falsehood we have created.

It’s been well established that I love good character-driven stories, and the characters here are richly drawn. There are moments when their motivations seem a bit rigidly defined by what the character is ‘like,’ but these motivations do evolve as the characters learn about themselves, grow and change.

The first line (and chapters) primed me for a murder mystery, but this is not a who-dunnit novel. The initial frenetic pace of setting the scene for Lydia’s death tempers after the opening chapters and settles into something more of a family and character drama. I say that not as a complaint, but more of a caution that while you may find yourself staying up late to read this one it won’t be because you’re driven to figure out the crime, so much as to figure out when – and if – the family members will recognize their false assumptions, the limits of their beliefs about themselves and those they love, the necessity to openly share.

I’ll be putting this one on my ‘books to buy or borrow’ list (post to come soon…) as you think about possible holiday shopping. I’d say it’s a great book to buy for any reader on your list, and perhaps for yourself. And certainly one to prompt you to ask yourself what do I actually know about my family and myself, what stories do I tell myself, and when is a secret simply the question we never thought or borthered to ask.

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, Mystery, New York Times Notable, Prize Winner