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The Bookshelf 7 - My last half dozen

There is a distinct touch of fall in the air. The mornings are cold with a little frost. The wind is chilly. The sun sleeps later in the day and the moon shines earlier in the evening. It's a great time for baking 'everything' pumpkin and zucchini - and for reading. My last half dozen is another eclectic bunch with a couple of feel-good stories, a couple of family dramas, a thriller/mystery, and a self-help that snuck it's way in there by mistake. There's some good reading here. Enjoy!

In the order they were read. . . .

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting - If you become weary of the world (actually, let me rephrase that to “when you become weary of the world” because we all will at some point, the way the world is turning these days), I highly recommend you pick up this little book and just read. Iona is a flamboyant 57 year old lady who was once an entertainment ‘star’ and who now feels she is being 'forced out' of her role as a well-known advice columnist due to her age. She has laid down her own rules for commuting on the London transit system, rules which she, happily, has broken. In the process she forms an incongruous group of friends who come to rely on each other. The brilliance of this book is that the group of friends encompasses all age groups from teenager to mid-life and all social demographics (gender, ethnic, financial, social status) and reveals that each demographic has their issues but, more importantly, that each has something to offer the others. We all have issues and we all have strengths. The book touches on ageism, career satisfaction, mental health, bullying, relationship violence, social media use and abuse, workplace stress, and building confidence and finding yourself, regardless of your age. It’s a fast and pleasant read. Even the ‘touchy’ topics are dealt with gracefully. It’s a good reminder to not make judgements and to get to know people. Yes, it is predictable and cliché. It’s all good. (If you are someone with a bit of age, you might be wondering, “What is my second act?” and if you have ridden London transit, bonus!) Strongly recommend. 4.5/5

Untamed - This million-copy best seller slipped into my latest half dozen as it was tucked into the ‘novels’ section of Chapters rather than the semi-autobiographical self-help section. I thought it was going to be about a fictional woman finding herself; rather, it is the author’s own journey through addictions (both substances and food), depression and anxiety and her discovery of herself as a homosexual woman. I was disappointed as I do not like self-help books, but I read it anyway. The main premise of the book is that we have to learn to listen from within rather than bow down to the expectations of society which she maintains are mostly determined by white males. With over a million copies sold, this book has an audience. I am sure the feminists love it, as will classes on women’s studies. It might be helpful reading for women who feel they have ‘sold their soul’ to society , are in a ‘rut’, or who have experienced their own mental health issues. For me, it was a little bossy, trite, and ‘certain’, although it does hold some good reminders and thought-provoking viewpoints. I did like her ‘take’ on religion. To her credit, Glennon Doyle is now a philanthropist and activist for equality in many areas – feminism, racism, sexism, poverty, etc. Rating 3/5, but it was not for me.

Only Sisters – Family relationships, and maybe especially sister relationships, can be complicated at the best of times. They can be made even more difficult when the family has generational issues such as addictions and mental health. This book is gritty and tough. The premise is that one sister takes on the other (deceased) sister’s identity in social media in order to comfort their mother in the months before their mother dies. This book is about the tenuousness of family relationships, devotion, deceit, how different members of a family choose different coping styles, and finding yourself in coming ‘clean’. Secrets are hard to live with. There is much talk about illness and last days, so be forewarned. This is an easy to read book, although I found some of it questionable such as the premise of taking on someone’s else’s persona and some of the actions of the emergency/palliative care doctor sister – but who knows what people will do when pressed? You might pause to think of the meaning behind the title, and the cover is telling. I’ll definitely check out some of this Canadian author’s other books. Solid 4/5

Black Cake - This book could be amazing. It is a big, convoluted generational story about an estranged brother (Byron) and sister (Benny) in California who, upon their mother’s death, learn about the many twists and turns and traumas in the family background. The family history is passed down to them through a lengthy recorded letter from their mother that extends throughout the story. The book jumps (in very short chapters) between the many characters and between the 1960’s and the present. The book has an element of historical fiction when the author provides a beautiful portrayal of an unnamed island in the Caribbean, both the positive and negative aspects. There are so many – maybe even too many – issues raised in this book: race, domestic/sexual abuse, addictions, murder, ecology, environment, enduring friendships, running away, sexuality, family reconciliation, big decisions, deep dark secrets, immigration, lost identities . . . . It was as if the author looked at the issues of the day and tried to include them all. Despite this, and the fact that the book seemed to lag in the middle, and the twists and turns that seemed to never end, I liked the unique story line and the manner in which the author uses metaphors throughout (such as the black cake and the oceans) to make statements about life. Families can be formed as much by secrets as by truth. The story does come together in the end. This is the author’s first book, and I look forward to more that might be a bit more tightly written. Rating 4/5 for ingenuity and story line.

Hana Khan Carries On – You can learn a lot about life by reading a nice little fiction novel. ‘Hana Khan Carries On’ is written about Muslims by a Muslim Canadian. It is a light comedy/love story/drama set in Toronto that manages to tackle some tough topics such as racism, protests, abuse, stereotypes, small business struggles, and family secrets. It’s about a 24 year old lady finding her way in her career, in her family, and in her love life amidst lots of conflicts and competing interests. Throw in podcasts, an anonymous lover, radio shows, a sense of community, and lots of talk about food (including a halal dispute), and it’s an easy read. In the meantime, we learn a bit about Muslim religion and customs. I especially like that it has received high marks from persons of colour which give it credence, and the story helps us realize that persons from other ethnicities and religions have many of the same issues as we do. The author, Uzma Jalaluddin, previously wrote Ayesha At Last. Both of her books have been published internationally and are being considered for movies. It started out, for me, rating 3/5 and ended up 4.5/5.

The Paris Apartment - This book might be a hit for those who like thrillers and murder mysteries. Reading it felt like I was at one of those murder mystery suppers - many characters all with big secrets that you have to unravel - or maybe it's like a game of Clue. Jess leaves her uncomfortable life in London to reunite with her brother Ben, only to find that he has gone missing from his Paris apartment. She sets out to find him and, in the process, learns about all the other occupants of this apartment building. Everyone has his/her secrets and no one is as they seem. You might not like any of them. There are lots of backstories (victimization and deceit being the thread). This book is explicit, gory, and unbelievable. Admittedly, I am not a fan of thrillers, but I wonder, "Who thinks like this?" The author is a best-seller who has written other similar books. The chapters rotate as viewpoints of each of the characters, and it is well-written and easy to read. Rating 3/5 , but it's not my style.

So that's it for my last half dozen. In order of preference: maybe it was just my mindset in the past month, but I really enjoyed the lightness of 1) Iona's Iverson's Rules for Commuting and 2) Hana Khan Carries on. Then, I would pick the more serious 3) Only Sisters and 4) Black Cake. At the bottom of my list would be 5) The Paris Apartment and 6) Untamed. But it's up to you - we all like different things!

On to my next half dozen.


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