Before Green Gables

A Five Star Pick

As a hard core fan of the Anne of Green Gables series (which I only read when I took a Children’s Literature course in college), I was ecstatic when I knew this novel was in the making.  I always wanted to know Anne’s background and how she came to be an orphan.  It is written in the spirit of L.M. Montgomery’s style—tons of emotion, drama and fun.  Many critics would disagree with the creation of this novel but I think it was a good idea.  After all, anything that has to do with Anne is appealing to me and when I had finished the series, I was so sad that it had ended.  Budge Wilson didn’t overstep Montgomery, even though readers would argue that if Montgomery wanted to write about Anne’s past, she would have!  I will only say that if you want more Anne-like adventures, it is a satisfying read.  Good on its own but not vital to the original series (obviously).  So, if you decide to skip it, you will be missing out on the possible beginnings of our favorite red headed heroine.  Wilson is no Montgomery but she is a close second.  Her birth and early childhood took place during the time that Montgomery’s novels were being published.  If anyone were chosen to write a prequel, Wilson was deserving of it (and an East coast Canadian at that!).

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My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises & The Book of Polly

Book Pairing


I really loved the first tale in this pairing that when I read the latter, I realized there were many similar things between the two books.  I find it fascinating that one story can be almost like another, yet completely different at the same time.  It is definitely a good thing for readers, otherwise it would be hard to suggest new titles!  The thread that brings these novels together are the themes of a close relationship between young girls and senior women, humor and hidden secrets.  In the first book, Elsa is seven years old and has a strong friendship with her grandmother—indeed, she is about the only real friend that the little child has.  When her grandmother dies from cancer, Elsa is left to deal with the loss but also a mission that her grandmother left behind: deliver personal letters addressed to her neighbors in the apartment building that Elsa is living in, with her divorced mom.  The letters are like puzzle pieces that link all the neighbors together and becomes the key to the many stories that Elsa’s grandmother used to tell her.  She discovers that the tales were not too far from reality, even though they sounded fantastical.  With the second book, Willow is ten and has a very old mother.  Since her mom gave birth to her late in life, many times, Willow fears that she will be left alone very soon at a young and vulnerable age.  Sometimes, kids in her school think she is living with her grandmother.  Her mother smokes heavily and Willow believes that cancer (nicknamed “the bear”) will snatch her only parent away from her.  She also finds out that her mother apparently had a lover when she was much younger (before she married Willow’s now deceased father), who was sent to jail for an unknown reason.  It is up to Willow to find this man and uncover the secret that has been withheld from her for all these years.  The senior women in each story are quite outlandish in their behavior and don’t hold back their profane opinions.  Actually, they seem like the same person at times!  In both stories there is dark and light humor, with sad or dramatic moments but overall, quite nice and hopeful.  Each novel also contains interesting characters that you won’t soon forget and features a dog too.  One more bonus with Backman’s book is that if you liked Harry Potter, you will certainly enjoy some references that are mentioned in it.


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Us Conductors


In this fictional account of Lev Termen’s life, we are presented with how the Russian scientist invented an electronic instrument, known as the theremin. We witness how his government uses this invention as a means to visit America in the 1930’s, making him a spy against his will. He settles down in New York and believes he will stay there after his ideas are shared with American companies.  Although he is married when he arrives in New York, he falls in love with Clara, a young woman who is about fifteen years his junior but who enjoys spending time with him and becomes one of the best theremin players out there. Despite Lev’s success with private theremin lessons and inventing new things, he is watched closely by both his home country and the FBI.  When a job he is sent to do goes horrifically wrong, Lev finds himself panicking and hoping that he can continue to thrive in his new life, without being caught. He insists on being with Clara, despite her rejections and eventual engagement to another man. After pretending to live a normal existence with a new wife, Lev is finally captured and brought back to the Soviet Union, spending years in the gulags and scientific labs. A heartbreaking, yet mesmerizing novel.

Hislit title read-alikes:
If you enjoyed reading Michaels’ novel, you may be interested in the following books:
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Curtain of Death by W.E.B. Griffin
The Voyage by Murray Bail

It is not surprising that Michaels’ book won the Giller Prize in 2014.  I was lucky to have the chance to meet him and see him demonstrate how a theremin actually works!  If you like a musical instrument that looks like a cool gadget and want to experience how it sounds, reading the novel will give you that satisfaction.  Truly something else to witness it in person, though 🙂

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Me Before You

Book vs. Movie

Me Before You (novel)   Me Before You (movie)

I was excited when I found out they were doing a movie of this book.  I somehow knew it would be a gem because it was filmed in the UK and featured British actors.  I was not disappointed in the least.  Yes, the novel has a bit more character development but the highlights of the story were wonderfully portrayed in the screenplay.  My favorite part of the movie was actually seeing the unique style that Lou has in her taste of clothing.  When reading the book, I could only imagine the outfits she wore from the descriptions but watching the bright colors of her clothes on screen, truly brought out her personality.  I especially loved the camera shot on her collection of shoes!  The actors were perfectly chosen.  A special mention goes to Emilia Clarke.  I don’t think anyone else could have done a better job than her—the facial expressions were the best I have seen in a long while.  She really made you love her character.  And what satisfied me the most was how the film ended: as realistically as the novel did, which is good, considering Moyes came out with a second book.  I only hope they produce a movie out of that and succeed in making it just as enjoyable.  What are your thoughts?

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The Penguin Lessons

A Five Star Pick

The Penguin LessonsThis memoir explores the adventure of a young British professor, taking the risk to travel abroad and landing on the other side of the world, to teach at a boy’s school in Argentina—during a corrupt regime.  Although this in itself is already fairly interesting, his life gets more complicated with the addition of a penguin!  Michell happens upon the oil slicked bird, thinking the suffering animal will not make it.  The penguin’s fight to survive and unending gratitude to the author become a fixture in their bond.  Never could you imagine how Juan Salvador’s life is changed and how he changes lives at the school, as a mascot.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned throughout the book:  things that ring true even today and perhaps more so, during these unsettling times in the United States.  How one little penguin could open our eyes is clearly seen, once you fall in love with him.  It doesn’t take long before you consider him a fellow man, despite being a  waddling bird.  Juan is silent, yet friendly and oh so dashing in his permanent tuxedo!  Even his name is charming.  The chapters are illustrated with sketches of Juan that Michell himself had doodled when the penguin was living with him.  It is a memoir that will make your heart swell and bring tears to your eyes … but then again, aren’t all animal anecdotes like that?

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend & The Bookshop on the Corner

Book Pairing

readers-of-broken-wheel   bookshop-on-the-corner

There are no two better novels to pair up together than these.  Written just a year apart, it seems there is no shortage of this type of theme occurring often and lately.  That is, the theme of books and how they build and support communities—welcoming even newcomers into the fold.  In both stories, the main character is a woman trying to start over, with the focus of selling books to people who are hungry to read and want to escape reality.  In the first one, Sara from Sweden, is visiting a small town in Iowa to meet her pen pal Amy.  When she arrives, the news of Amy’s death comes as a shock.  To keep Amy’s memory alive and the town interested in books again, Sara opens a bookstore and also finds love.  The second tale features Nina, a librarian working in England, who loses her job due to budget cuts.  To continue what she has always loved doing, she decides to take a leap of faith and buys a van to furnish as a bookmobile.  She starts her business on wheels in dreamy Scotland and helps the community of a village to find the right type of book.  Nina even happens to match herself with the perfect man, even though she doesn’t see it at first.  Each novel has its group of characters that act like a tight knit family, helping the heroine realize her dreams and acknowledging how books are an integral part of it.  Both stories are fun and light—perfect for being curled by the fireside or on the beach.



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Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man


spock-jpegThis book will appeal to anyone who was curious about the relationship between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.  It is also another view of the lovable man we all remembered as Spock.  As a ‘Trekkie’, I certainly wanted to know what Shatner would say about the friendship that seemed to fizzle in the final years.  Granted, Shatner’s opinions may be biased but I saw him this year at the Montreal Comic-con and I really thought he was a fun and nice person, so I tended to trust his words in this open and honest book.  I am always willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  This memoir wasn’t so much about the sci-fi franchise, yet it was undeniably the biggest thing that brought Shatner and Nimoy together.  Shatner’s book starts the recollection of their friendship by mirroring his life to Nimoy’s:  their close birth dates, same religious backgrounds, similar childhoods in busy cities and the hardships they encountered when starting out in Hollywood.  They even experienced their own struggles with personal demons (Leonard was an alcoholic at one point and couldn’t quit smoking, while Shatner always got involved with women who were alcoholics).  There are a lot of interesting tid-bits in here, which I would never have known otherwise.  What I think this work represents (first and foremost) is an official apology for any wrongdoings and a sincere, heartfelt goodbye.  It is the product of a complicated yet admirably respectful friendship.  After all, many true and deep friendships thrive for years—despite an absence of communication.  Even men can attest to that.

Hislit title read-alikes:
If you liked Shatner’s book about Nimoy, here are others you may find just as fascinating:
I Am Spock by Leonard Nimoy
Star Trek Memories by William Shatner
Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows by Harvey Kubernik

It took Shatner courage to face the mystery of a friendship that weaved in an out of difficulties for decades and admit to certain bumps in the road, including his jealousy at times.  The book is a nice gesture—almost like an extended eulogy, which seems to give Shatner a sense of closure.  Whatever his faults, Shatner has shown that he is willing to let bygones be bygones and sing the praises of a worthy comrade.



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