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My Bookshelf 11: The last half dozen - some seriousness with a dose of summertime escape

It's been awhile since I published my last half dozen reads, but travelling and summer weather have a way of keeping the books on the shelf. But here, finally, is my last half dozen.

There is a serious classic novel, several heartfelt/insightful reads, and a couple of summer pastime books in this bunch. There's something here for everyone.

In the order they were read:

Demon Copperhead - I started off with a serious and sombre novel, a best seller. It's a modern day version of the classic, David Copperfield. Damon Fields, also known as Demon Copperhead, was born on the bathroom floor to an addicted mother in squalor, addiction, and poverty in Southwest Virginia. His father is absent, and stories vary as to his demise, but Demon inherited his red hair. The majority of Demon's neighbours, friends, and family are all stuck in the rut of poverty, addictions, hopelessness, and bad decisions. Those who survive continue the cycle. A few make a break. It's a long hard road with many setbacks when you have not been raised correctly and have been robbed of a home, a family, opportunities, education, self-esteem, and the chance to identify and build your strengths. Self-sabotage is strong, and life comes to be defined by one bad decision after another, even when things start to go your way. So many decisions are made out of a need for love and belonging. Hopefully, in every life, there are one or two people who see a bigger picture and believe in you; and they might be found in the most unexpected places. This book is eloquent. It's about systemic failings and institutions that perpetuate negative cycles. I loved this book, but there is a lot of sadness, hardship, child abuse, addictions, and poverty that might not be for everyone. It lags a bit in the middle. Rating 4.5/5

Pineapple Street - Next is a book that could not be more opposite to Demon Copperhead. It's about the rich Stockton family in New York, parents (Chip and Tilda) who focus on amassing wealth and social commitments and their three adult children (Darley, Cord, and Georgiana) who all take their upper-class life for granted. The story is told from the perspective of Darley, Georgiana, and Sasha, the 'middle class' wife of Cord. All of the Stockton adult 'children' have to come to some reckonings in their lives. While it could be said that they achieve some personal growth, their parents remain oblivious. The main themes of this book are the privilege of wealth, the gap between the ultra rich and the rest of us, the secrets made to preserve the status quo, love that crosses boundaries, and how every one of us has to decide who we are going to be. It might be part statement, part humour, and part satire. Or, maybe it’s even a bit of self-deprecation by the author. As always, read to the end of the Epilogue - you’ll get a chuckle. It's an easy summer time read. Rating 3/5

really good, actually - At first glance, you might think this little Canadian novel is simply millennial angst and swears and sex, but there’s some nice lessons and reminders. Maggie and her husband decide to terminate their relationship after 608 days of marriage and some eight years of partnership before that. Maggie is feeling ‘all the feels’ of grief when her husband takes most of their belongings and their pet cat. She lives in Toronto and is surrounded by a cast of friends who pretty much cover all the personality types and demographics, has a career which she doesn’t appreciate, looks for love in all the wrong places, and tries every newest ‘thing’ out there such as every type of self-help technique, endless involvement in social media, dating apps, spending on frivolous items, hobbies, yoga, sports, fitness, beauty enhancements, and art in an effort to keep herself busy and to feel good. Yes, this book is a great satire about millennial angst and rage and poor decisions, but it’s also a good portrayal and reminder of the management of grief and loss of any type, whether it is the loss of a relationship, a career, or death. You have to learn to walk with your pain and to live and be heartbroken at the same time, as her wise old mentor, Merris, tells her. This book is an easy read. Be warned, there is lots of sex and swears that might not be for you. I loved the humour and the satire. Rating 3.5/5

Hello Beautiful - Here's another story with some good themes and reminders about the importance of life decisions. The characters are relatable with real strengths and weaknesses. William Waters is a tall, gangly, socially awkward, fellow who is, for all purposes, abandoned by his parents as they never get over the death of their older daughter when he was just a days-old infant. He meets Julia Padavano at a basketball game. Charlie and Rose Padavano have four daughters whom you can match to the characters in that classic novel, Little Women. Julia is strong and a little bossy. Sylvie is a reader and a romantic. Emeline is soft-hearted and nurturing while Cecilia is an artist. With his marriage to Julia, William is drawn into this tight little circle. There is much sadness and trauma in this book. William makes some harsh decisions, and the bond between the Padavano sisters is tested. You will be left reading anxiously to see if, and how, love can prevail. This book is about loss of many types (abandonment, death, relationships, families) and intergenerational trauma. There are mental health issues. There is physical illness. It’s about how our thoughts and actions are shaped by our upbringing and how we learn to understand ourselves. There is also love of many types – sibling love, friend love, romantic love, parental love, and career love. And it is about forgiveness and personal growth. There's a lot of substance to this summer time read. Rating 4/5

Bad Summer People - This book is summarized by the title. It starts off with a dead body found face down off the boardwalk at Fire Island, a summer escape for the rich of New York. We don't find out who the body is until the end. The rest of the book is filled by, well, bad summer people behaving badly. The main characters are two couples, Lauren and Jason and Jen and Sam, and their manipulative and gossipy lonely friend Rachel. Throw in a cast of equally shallow associates and a hunky tennis pro, Robert, and it's about hot nights and a lot of tennis drama - and a lot of explicit cheap sexual affairs. You might need some paper and a pen to track just who is cheating on whom and with whom. You just might think, 'Do people actually behave like this?' And you might not like any one of these characters. I always try to find some lesson in a book, but it was a stretch - maybe this book is simply satire and a warning about the evils of basing your worth purely on money and looks. If you like shallow gossip and drama, you might like this easy summer read. It wasn't for me. Rating 2/5

Closer By Sea - My most recent half dozen ended on a high note. Closer By Sea is a sweet little Canadian novel (you can read it in a few sittings) that paints a picture of growing up in a small fishing town on the isolated Perigo Island off of Newfoundland in 1991. It's told from the perspective of young Pierce, mourning the loss of his fisherman father three years prior. The island is experiencing the dwindling cod industry and the resultant loss of jobs and livelihood. Pierce's mother struggles to keep herself and Pierce afloat by working at the fish plant. Pierce has solid childhood friends (and 'crushes' on a new girl who is visiting the island for the summer) who make some cash by selling cod tongues from the wharf. The community is shaken with the loss of a local teenager, Anna; and Pierce and his buddies go on a quest to investigate her disappearance. One of their targets is a suspicious older fellow who keeps to himself. This book is absolutely delightful. It is so clear and well-written, it's like a history lesson into the east coast in the early 1990's with a bit of folklore and science and psychology thrown in. You can almost taste the cod and feel the salt spray and see the 12 inch black and white TV and the clock radio. It's about grief, bullying, childhood friendships and crushes, the impact of a few special contacts, confronting fears, setting aside judgement, growing up, and the role of one important person in your life. Always read the epilogue - your eyes might be a little moist at this point. And the cover is magnificent. Highly recommend for an easy, uncomplicated read. Rating 5/5

There you have it. I now realize that there is some better reading in here that I had originally thought. In order of my preference: 1. Closer By Sea 2. Demon Copperhead. 3. Hello, Beautiful. 4. really good, actually 5. Pineapple Street and, finally, 6. Bad Summer People

Pour a fluffy drink or a coffee and choose your next read, depending on what emotion you need or what mood you're in. There's something of all types here.

"Think before you speak. Read before you think." Fran Lebowitz


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