Sunday, 27 December 2015

Americanah Review
I thought I'd start with one of my favourite quotes in Americanah "It's a novel, right? What's it about?" Why did people ask "What's it about?" as if a novel had to be about only one thing. Ifemelu disliked the question; she would have disliked it even if she did not feel, in addition to her depressed uncertainty, the beginning of a headache. 

This is how I feel about my book reviews. I know I'm not good at them. I rarely write what the book was about, but instead focus on my thoughts and feelings about the book. Probably not the most fun thing to read, but it's what I like to write.

This is a story about a Nigerian woman who moves to the U.S. to complete her university degree, becomes a U.S. citizen and then returns to Nigeria after 13 years. It is also a love story about the boy she leaves behind, their estrangement and eventual reunion. I found the observations of life in Nigeria and a Nigerian's observations of American culture to be very eye-opening. Half-way through the book; however, I began to distrust the narrator's continually scorching judgement of people and culture. I'm not sure if it was because the main character became more hardened and bitter as well as depressed or if the book was just a tad too long.

A few chapters also focused on Ifemelu's boyfriend's experience in England and Nigeria. I felt this gave the book further scope and depth. I was glad for this perspective.

Despite the length of the book, it was a quick read with lots of dialogue and anecdotes. The tone was conversational and engaging. I feel like I learned a lot and, in spite of Ifemelu's faults, she was an endearing, intelligent and compelling main character. I'm curious now how much of this novel was based on the author's experiences. I know you're not supposed to wonder this, but it seemed very real.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas Review

Stephanie Barron's mystery book Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas is the perfect cozy mystery for Austen-lovers at this time of year.
Not only does it have a gorgeous cover, but it is filled with historical treats for Austen fans as well as a well-paced, "clew"-strewn puzzle.

In this, the twelfth "Being A Jane Austen Mystery" installation, Jane is on her way to visit her brother at Steventon Parsonage for the Christmas holidays.  Barron does an excellent job of describing his cold, stingy home and his lazy, dramatic wife.  After a dangerous accident along the way, the Austens are thankfully invited to spend the holidays at The Vyne, an opulent historic house where they are in much better care.  Shortly after they arrive; however, an unexpected guest is murdered and the frivolity of the season comes to an end. 

Barron's depiction of Jane Austen as a witty and clever detective is both believable and delightful.  Her methodical and level-headed mind seems the perfect match for solving mysteries.  Whenever I read her series, I wish I had thought of the concept first!  Barron's extensive research and knowledge of Austen's work, life and letters is obvious throughout the book without becoming burdensome.  Her stitching of fiction and nonfiction is seamless.

One of my favourite mini-dramas in the book is the twelve gifts Cassandra and Jane give their 10-year-old niece, Caroline on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  What is a book about Christmas without gifts, after all?  The addition of Mr. West as a detective partner is also intriguing.  I highly recommend this holiday read.

Thursday, 3 December 2015


Juvenilia is the word used to describe Jane Austen's early works, specifically those written when she was a child.  I have a beautiful copy of some of them in a book I picked up at Indigo called Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury.

This is one of her more well-known pieces of Juvenilia titled The History of Enbland from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st By a partial, prejudiced & ignorant Historian.

The other night, my daughter was very excited about an idea she had for a book.  I encouraged to her to get right to work before she forgot anything.  Then I remembered that I had written my first "novel" when I was in grade 6, the very grade she is in now.  As soon as I told her, she begged me to find it, so I did.  Here is a photo of the cover page:

Naturally, the kids wanted me to read the book, so I've begun reading a little bit each day.  (By the way, the boy is pointing at the doll house, not trying to shoot it, as my kids first thought!  Also, the shirt was very fashionable in the 80's!!)

The kids are adamant in their praise of my early writing and perhaps this has coloured my view a little, but I have to admit, I'm enjoying the read.  It's full of cliches and the word "stupid" (which I censor as I read).  There are also large holes in the plot and it probably draws richly on what I was reading at the time, but it is fun and imaginative.  It's what made me want to become a writer.  In case you are intrigued, I'll give you a little excerpt.  I hope you'll forgive me for fixing the spelling and grammatical mistakes.  I can't help myself!

Chapter One: The Fall

"Tommy Manning, come downstairs or you supper will get cold!"

"Mom, I can't come downstairs.  I have to finish building Melissa's doll house."

"Don't keep giving me that ridiculous excuse.  Now either come downstairs or turn into a skinny pencil!"

I guess there's no use fighting with my mother, but the truth is, I'm really not working on this stupid doll house.  I'm actually planning an escape route for when my mom's idiotic 13-year-old cousin comes.  Her name is Sophia Keople and she's a real drip.  I don't exactly know her, but she's an A++ student.  Ugh!  Well, I better get down for supper, or else!

That night, after supper, I really do start to build the doll house.  It isn't really that bad, but it is kind of babyish.  I decide to make the doll house exactly like ours.  Have you tried building a doll house exactly like your own for your jerky sister at the age of 9?!  I tell you, it's no picnic!

That night, I wake up from brain pain.  My head isn't broken in half, don't worry.  It's that I suddenly remember I forgot my homework.  I decide to sneak down to the kitchen and do my math.

As I walk downstairs, I can hear my sister singing in her sleep.  She's no Whitney Houston, that's for sure!  I also hear other neat noises that you can never hear in the daytime; like the hum of the refrigerator, the rumble of the heater and the snoring of the cat.  What?  The cat snores?  Gee, this is really weird!

Then next morning, when I wake up, I can hear my dad singing in the shower, and he's no Kenny Rogers either!  I decide to put on my mini headphones and listen to some real music!  As I start up the stairs again, my sister Melissa comes running down, yelling and screaming.  I try to stop her, but all that does is put me into a nosedive and pull me down too.  The next minute, everything goes black.

I seriously used a semicolon in grade 6?  Even now, I am wary of them:)

So, thanks to my grade 6 teacher, Mr. G, who inspired us by reading his own novel, set in South Africa where he was from, and then told us to write our own.  I relished this project and haven't really stopped the assignment since.