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My Bookshelf 9 - the last half dozen is a real mish mash

We have almost survived another prairie winter, and the snow should start melting soon. I didn't get as much reading done as I wanted but still managed to read some pretty good books. My latest half dozen is a real mish mash. There's something for everyone, depending on your mood - a bit of sadness, a bit of success, a bit of humour, a bit of who-dun-it, and a whole lot to think about. None really stood out as amazing, but they are all good books. Take your choice.

In the order they were read:

Queenie - The early part of this book is sexual, overtly sexual, but it tells a story - about Queenie, a 25 year old woman of colour in London, England, making poor decisions and trying to find love (and herself) in all the wrong places. She was raised by her overbearing, traditional Jamaican grandparents when her mother walked out due to her own victimization, abuse, and trauma. She has secured a good job at a newspaper publisher, but her life is unraveling. The strength of this book is the portrayal of a 'lost' young lady finding herself through therapy and the assurance it gives that 'normal' is just a construct, it's alright to be different, and it is really okay to seek therapy and address those demons in life, even if the journey is heart-breaking, you might crash in the process, and your own family does not agree with 'intervention'. In the last half of the book, her decisions become calmer and wiser as Queenie gains insight and learns to value herself. The theme is good for anyone, especially young adults navigating relationships, careers, friendships, and family, but the context is that Queenie, as a person of colour, also has to manage both the overt and subtle racism that occurs in everyday life. This book is insightful, non-preachy, and humorous in places. It has the ability to raise issues such as sexual violence in a manner that young people might need to hear. But there's enough trauma in here that might be triggers. Some say the book is too stereotypical. You'll love it or hate it. There are great book group discussion questions at the end. Rating 4/5

The Winners - The Winners is the final book in a trilogy by Swedish author Fredrick Backman, one of my favourite authors. You don't have to read the preceding two (Beartown and Us Against Them) to reap the glory of this book. The writing is descriptive and emotional, and the characters are real. Fredrick Backman can sure build a character. This novel warns of the dangers of enmeshment and identities centred in only one thing (in this case the hockey world). He touches on all that can possibly go wrong: the haves and the have nots, hero worship, sexism, violence, mental health, suicide, misogyny, male privilege, family dysfunction, isolation, unreal and unmet expectations, sexual assault, turning a blind eye, family dysfunction, deceit and justification, breaking out and breaking away, crashing or rising above . . . It's a great cautionary tale for all of us - parents, families, athletes, communities, organizations. Every paragraph has words of wisdom. The book is long and maybe a bit repetitive and implausible, and it could be triggers for issues of sexual assault, death, and violence. Rating 4/5

All The Broken Places - In a unique twist, this book is an adult sequel to John Boyne's children's book, 'The Boy In The Striped Pajamas'. Gretel was born in Berlin, the daughter of a senior officer in the Reich, the commander of one of the worst Jewish extermination camps, Auschwitz. At a young age, she becomes aware of the atrocities. The book is written in chapters alternating between today's London where the now 91 year old Gretel lives in what she hopes is anonymity and a timeline of her life between 1943 and 1970 as she 'ran' from her past and forged new identities. A little boy who moves into the downstairs suite with his family is her impetus to reconsider her past. Some experts say the book is not historically accurate and that the author has used the Holocaust simply as a topic for an enticing novel. I did love the complex theme of personal guilt and grief and atonement, especially when a person is born an innocent child and grows up in a horrific and evil environment. It raises a lot of moral and ethical questions. I also loved the writing, the depth of the emotion, and the storyline itself. I do think some of the occurences almost bordered on 'thriller', and the ending was not for me. This is a very fast read that will conjure up emotions and thought. Trigger warning - there is domestic violence and child abuse involved. Rating 3.5-4/5

Nosy Parker - Nosy Parker is a sweet little Canadian novel about a 12 year old girl who is given the name “Nosy” by her "ancient" and "prehistoric" father. Nosy has to remind him that he needs to be more present in her life. They have moved to the Notre Dame de Grace area of Montreal just as Expo 1967 is opening. Nosy is no longer a child but not yet a teenager. She spies on the neighbours through old opera glasses. But most of all, Nosy is trying to find out something, anything, about her deceased mother, a topic her father avoids. Nosy is wonderfully quirky, a “free spirit”, opinionated, uses plenty of swears, and is cynical about some well-established practices or institutions. She forms a little circle comprised of new friends, neighbours, surrogate family, and her two cats. She experiences many losses and sadnesses, but there is much tenderness and humour in this story. This book does contain profanity and graphic acts of a sexual and violent nature. If you are my age, you'll remember flashcube cameras and tuna casserole. It's a really quick, engaging read. The story line is solid and doesn’t veer into unbelievable events. It left me remembering that, as adults, women and men, we have to be strong role models because we never know who needs us or who is watching – and we never know what a difference we can make. Rating 4/5

Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone - This is one unique book, as you can tell by the enticing title - unique in the style of telling and unique in the storyline. The highly dysfunctional and infamous Cunningham family has convened at a mountain resort for a family reunion. As you can imagine from the title, the bodies keep piling up. Who killed whom recently and in the past? The story is told from the first-person perspective of Ernest Cunningham, a self-confessed author and reader of crime novels, who tries to solve murders past and present. The author side-steps into talking directly to the writer at times, and he gives forewarnings about certain chapters and pages that might help you to solve the mystery. I still found the plot a bit convoluted. You might not like any of the characters that much. This book is a real who-dun-it and, despite dealing with ongoing deaths and tragedies, it is not all that gory and there is humour to it. But, trigger warning - there are deaths and addiction and abuse that might be painful to some. I had a hard time rating this book. I really wanted to love it, but it was a little far-fetched for me. This is a book by an Australian author and has sold publishing rights to over 20 countries, and an HBO series is in the works which shows it really has an audience. My rating: 3.5/5

The Relatives - This is a unique, intriguing, and timely read. The Relatives is told in chapters that alternate between the three main characters - Lila, a social worker with questionable professional boundaries; Adam, a supposed aid worker who is actually an undercover for the State Department, and Tess, who finds herself co-parenting a son with her ex-partner. They've all been damaged in some way and also face a personal crisis of some sort. They all have to face their own desires, motives, and dreams. They all become linked through Adam's sperm donation when he was a graduate student. Each character grapples with what it means to be family, and the story raises some moral and ethical issues that might come about as a result of sperm donation. Who has a right to what and how are offspring related? One aspect I really liked was how each character found ‘answers’ where they least expected, and those answers might not be what they expected. You could read this book in just a day, if you wanted. The writing is concise and smart and not scared to tackle emotional topics. It'll leave you thinking. Rating: 4/5

In order of my preference (maybe depending on my mood this morning): The Winners, Nosy Parker, The Relatives, Queenie, All The Broken Places, and, finally,

Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." Dr. Seuss


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