children of air india – thoughts

children of air india – thoughts

Title: children of air india Author: Renée Sarojini Saklikar Publisher: Nightwood Editions, 2013 Pages: 125 ISBN: 978-0-88971-287-4 Price: $13.68 (CDN) This is not a book review because I am faced, for the first time, with something that cannot be reviewed in the usual way. Typically, I would read a book and then write a review to discuss what I liked or disliked about it: was the story was good and engaging, the characters relatable, the world immersive and detailed… Even with poetry, I can usually say if I liked a given poem or not, or whether or not it spoke to me in some way. children of air india did more than merely speak to me, it drove the raw edges of grief, anger, sorrow and unspeakable loss right through the heart of me. Air India Flight 182 was destroyed by a bomb at 31,000 feet off the southern coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985. It was the deadliest terrorist attack Canada has ever known – 329 people, a large number of them children under 13, were killed. 268 of the dead were fellow Canadians. At the time of the bombing, I was 9 years old and utterly ignorant of the event that had just taken place. I was probably wandering around my neighbourhood feeling pleased to have the whole of the summer laid before me with no end in sight. Air India Flight 182 wasn’t on my mind that day, or in the days that followed as I did not follow the news – and my parents probably did little more than watch the reports on TV. I learned of the bombing later, as a teenager, and even then – I failed to understand the significance; I failed to connect those lives with my own. Renée Saklikar’s book of poems, along with other reading, has been the beginning of connection, knowledge and some understanding. For me, the poems seem like fragments from which small pieces of picture emerge: the morning’s activities before the flight, the thoughts of both passengers and their families as they got ready to leave for the airport and all the small moments that string together to make a life: the goodbyes, the squabbles, the worry of being late. Among these moments are the clinical words that describe death: the vocabulary of coroners and lawyers and investigators; the language and words that piece together what happened, even as they cut apart the soft unprotected parts of those left behind to hear them. Toward the end of the book, the poems explore the feelings of being left behind: the reporters, the questions and the futures that will go unlived. This is where attempting to review this works falls apart for me....

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A Monster Calls – a book review

A Monster Calls – a book review

Title: A Monster Calls Author: Patrick Ness Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2011 Pages: 105 ISBN: 978-0-7636-6065-9 Price: $10.00 (CDN) I was hooked on this excellent book from the opening line: “The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.” For me, that’s an opening line right up there with, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”, and given how many times I’ve read that particular book… Ness’s story focuses on Conor, a 13 year old boy whose mother is going through medical treatments for an unspecified illness – I thought “cancer” as I read – and about Conor’s recurring nightmares since the treatments began. On this particular night, at 12:07 am, Conor meets the monster for the first time when it comes to his bedroom window: it is “something wild, something ancient” in the form of the yew tree that normally sits in the centre of the graveyard on a hill near Conor’s house. The tree monster tells him in no uncertain terms: “I have come to get you, Conor O’Malley.” Conor’s story is accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay, and our first look at the monster shows a wild and almost primitive looking monster; the kind that isn’t borne out of watching too many silly slasher and zombie films, but the kind that comes from your very deepest and most primitive fears. Looking at the drawings, I thought, “Somewhere, in the history of the human species, there were people living in caves who were probably drawing pictures of the exact same monster.” This monster is older than time and more wild – and when it goes walking in the world, it goes in search of truth. And not just the easy truths; the difficult ones that make you squirm uncomfortably, the ones that make you feel sick to your stomach with holding them in; the ones that can set you free if you’re brave enough to give them a voice. I don’t want to spoil the plot entirely, but I think it’s safe to reveal that the monster wreaks all the havoc you expect of monsters, while also moving Conor toward facing his nightmare and revealing his truth both to the monster and himself. To this end, the monster tells Conor three tales, and Conor is expected to provide the fourth tale – the deep truth of his nightmare and his feelings about it. I was particularly struck by something the monster tells Conor: Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truth that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both. This is something that hit home for me personally. I have lied to myself times without number about so...

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The Room – a book review

The Room – a book review

Title: The Room Author: Jonas Karlsson Publisher: Hogarth (2009, trans. 2015) Pages: 186 (not incl. discussion guide) ISBN: 978-0-8041-3998-4 Price: $11.17 (USD, Amazon.com) The Room is the absurd, slightly sad and intriguing tale of Björn, who finds a strange room in the office where he works. From the start, I suspected that Björn would be the sort of insufferable jerk that we’ve all had the misfortune to work with at some point or another. Björn was transferred from his previous work place for reasons never made entirely clear: It wasn’t my decision to move on. I was fairly happy at my last job and felt comfortable with the routines, but somehow I outgrew the position and ended up feeling that I was doing a job that was way below my abilities, and I have to admit that I didn’t always see eye to eye with my colleagues. It became clear very quickly that Björn was going to be a very unreliable narrator – after all, if he were really “happy” and “comfortable” in his job, it seems absurd that he’d suddenly “somehow” feel the work was beneath him. I can only assume that his old boss was all too happy to see him go and become someone else’s problem. By page 14, Björn cemented my dislike of him with his petty observations about his co-workers: Slowly but surely I built up profiles of my closest neighbours, their character and place in the hierarchy. Beyond Håkan [Björn’s desk mate] sat Ann. A woman somewhere around fifty. She seemed knowledgeable and ambitious, but also the sort of person who thought she knew everything and liked being proven right…Opposite Ann sat Jörgen. Big and strong, but doubtless not possessed of an intellect to match… In addition to his nasty little asides about his co-workers, there is the room – a strange puzzle of a place which increasingly becomes the focus of Björn’s working life (in good and bad ways) to the point of a being an obsession for him and his co-workers. At first, from the descriptions, it seems that the room is real and merely an unused office. But as a reader, I never felt absolutely certain of its existence because Björn had already established himself as a character I couldn’t trust. Later, when it turns out his colleagues can’t see the room at all – and see nothing more than Björn standing in the hallway even when he insists he’s in the room – you feel almost sure that the room isn’t there, but not enough to say so definitively because Björn is always so insistent that it does exist – and his insistence about the room’s existence is the only time his emotions seem...

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – a book review

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – a book review

Title: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Author: R. A. Dick (Josephine Leslie) Publisher: Vintage Books Pages: 174 ISBN: 978-0-8041-7348-3 Price: $14.95 (USD, Amazon.com) I didn’t discover this gem of a book until after I’d watched the movie on Netflix – I’ve now seen it seven times and counting, it’s a really good movie – and learned from the credits that it was based on R. A. Dick’s novel of the same name. I ordered a copy of the movie and the book, and read the book over two days. The story begins with newly widowed Lucy Muir who, after discharging the debts left behind by her late husband, decides she wants a life of her own – preferably one that is far from her pushy and interfering in laws who insist on treating her as though she were a silly child rather than a grown and widowed woman with two children. After enquiring at the local house agent’s, Lucy learns of Gull Cottage, a beautiful little house by the sea in Whitecliff that is supposedly haunted by the former owner, Captain Daniel Gregg. Despite attempts at interference from the house agent, Mr. Coombe, who tells Lucy exactly what he thinks would and wouldn’t suit her, she is successful in renting it. As it turns out, all the rumours about Gull Cottage being haunted are completely true. Captain Daniel Gregg, a plain spoken sailor who “lived a man’s life” and then died in Gull Cottage unexpectedly, has terrified previous prospective tenants out of their wits – and out of his house – but Lucy is determined to stay and the two come to an agreement as Lucy settles into her new and independent life in Gull Cottage. I admit that as I read the book, I did picture Rex Harrison (Sexy Rexy!) and Gene Tierney in the title roles, but here, Captain Gregg’s language is even stronger and more appropriate to the way you might think a former sea captain would talk (when he was practising restraint in the company of a lady, anyway), and Lucy seems feistier and her struggles to speak her mind and be heard are more apparent. I felt sorry for and amused by movie-Lucy – Eva is really an annoying martyr in the film – but book-Lucy was someone I admired from the start. She makes up her mind early in the story that “…if this was a new life, she must begin at once to lead it in the way she meant to go on.”, and so she does. She refuses to be bullied into doing what others feel is right for her, even when standing up for herself is frightening or tiring. With some encouragement from Captain Gregg, she...

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Secrets – a book review

Secrets – a book review

Title: Secrets (#2) Author: Kate William (a ghostwriter, series created by Francine Pascal) Publisher: Bantam Books Pages: 118 ISBN: 0-553-25044-2 Price: $6.85 (USD, paperback, previously owned) I couldn’t resist reviewing another one of these – I’ve got other books I’ve just finished that I could review. Other books that would probably make my reading choices seem more respectable, but screw it: these are ridiculously fun to review. Where to start? With the cover where Jessica’s comb-over makes another appearance? Or how the pink of the princess phone Jessica is gossiping into matches the pink of Elizabeth’s sensible sweater so exactly? Or how the whole cover is a gentle pastel nightmare right down to their matching lipgloss? We open with pretty much the same scene as the first book – more palaver about Jessica’s stunning good looks: “Jessica was, as usual, too gorgeous for words (then why do you keep talking about her???). Her sun-colored hair shimmered about tanned shoulders left bare by the silky Hawaiian print dress that perfectly complimented her blue-green eyes. A bewitching smile on her lovely oval face usually completed the picture of perfection. The only trouble was, she wasn’t smiling right now…” And there’s the hook! Why isn’t she smiling? What would make someone blessed with such amazing good looks be so sad? Beautiful people aren’t supposed to have to deal with sadness and troubles like us mere mortals. And in keeping with the first book, we are also treated – again! – to Jessica grousing about what an “absolute mess” she is before “tossing her head in disgust, even though every golden strand seemed to be in place.” and raging that her twin had her tossed in the school pool fully clothed in the first book. Cara, Jessica’s BFF, flatters her back into a better humour: “…you know really did look kind of sexy. Like Bo Derek in that beach scene in 10.” Not a single one of my friends have ever a) told me I was sexy, or b) compared me to a movie star, or c) needed to do either because I was acting like a spoiled little shit who needs compliments the way other people need oxygen. Not that I want to reach into the pages and slap her or anything. Cara goes on with the cajoling flattery, and between vomit-inducing compliments (“Bruce will be so blinded by your beauty…”) we are introduced to the plot: Jessica wants to be queen of the fall dance, because Bruce Patman (handsome, filthy-rich, drives a Porsche) is sure to be king, and Jessica LURRRVES him so much (because he’s handsome, filthy-rich and drives a Porsche). Shallow and materialistic? Not our little made-of-sunshine Jessica! But, Jessica is worried that Elizabeth’s best...

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Double Love – a book review

Double Love – a book review

Title: Double Love (#1) Author: Kate William (a ghostwriter, series created by Francine Pascal) Publisher: Bantam Books Pages: 182 ISBN: 0-553-27567-4 Price: $5.18 (USD, paperback, previously owned) I recently unearthed old copies of the Sweet Valley High series at a local used bookstore. Just seeing the cover of Double Love transported me back to seventh grade, and spending rainy days reading about the trials and tribulations of the ever-perfect teenage twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. These books are directly responsible for my misconceptions about high school (real high school is nowhere near as exciting or interesting), and set me up for great disappointment in terms of the sort of romantic adventures I might have (none – there were no Todd Wilkinses at my school. At all.). Still, they’re an easy read, amusing, and laugh-out-loud terrible in some spots now that I’m reading them again as a 36 year old. The first three pages are not dedicated to story telling, or world building as you might expect. No. They are dedicated to talking about the twins appearance by way of Jessica complaining about how “gross” she is. Let me regale you with the catalogue of horrors that are the Wakefield twins: “…disgustingly fat….” (and “[w]ith that, [Jessica] spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible anywhere.”). “…perfectly shaped bronze leg[s].” Jessica is “…the most adorable, most dazzling, sixteen-year-old girl imaginable.” “silky blonde hair” (on the book cover, Jessica has a comb-over that would make Donald Trump jealous) “almond-shaped eyes the blue-green of the Caribbean” And, both have “the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blonde hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin…Both girls were five feet six on the button and generously blessed with spectacular, all-American good looks.” Oh, and they’re a size six, too. Yeah. The first three pages are very indicative of how the rest of the book, and series, is written – everything is about the twins, and whatever is happening, you can be sure that their perfect beauty will be part of the scene, and/or that they are the focus of solving problems (their own, other people’s…) Anyway, on to the plot! Jessica has her sights set on Todd Wilkins, the star basketball player. And Jessica, being the conniving bag of twats she is, usually gets her man. But Todd, he of the “tanned, muscular chest” and, “compelling presence” has his “gorgeous brown eyes” set on Elizabeth. Elizabeth wants him, too, but, in keeping with her martyrdom complex, assumes that she is no competition for the “dazzling Jessica Wakefield”, so she decides to just let Jessica have her own way. I don’t remember any of the boys in my class when I was 16 having a particularly “compelling presence” or...

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