Random House Reading Bingo Challenge 2014

I am planning to participate this year for the first time in the Random House Reading BINGO challenge 2014. There are two Bingo cards that readers can work at completing by reading a book which is described on one of the cards and then crossing off that square. The fun part, or one of the fun parts – just reading is the biggest fun part for me – is that you can make your goal filling out the entire card or cards (one is categorized as ADULT and the other as YOUNG ADULT) or you can go at it like an actual Bingo game and go for one line or a line at a time or whatever suits your fancy.

Here’s what I’ve done so far  on the ADULT challenge…

I’ve read Muse by Mary Novik and also posted on this blog elsewhere on this title. It will meet the criteria in the box labelled “A BOOK WITH A ONE-WORD TITLE”. At first I didn’t think I would find one for this category and there it was, right under my nose.

In January, I also read The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud and I will use it for the category “A Best-Selling Book”: I really liked this novel and my blog on it will explain why.Reading-Bingo Adult-small

My first read in January was Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado and I will use it for the box labelled “A BOOK BASED ON A TRUE STORY” (also on my blog in a separate entry).

I am almost finished Above All Things by Tanis Rideout and that will go in “A BOOK SET ON A DIFFERENT CONTINENT”: I haven’t written my blog yet but it will appear in the next 7 to 10 days.

So, I have read four bingo boxes already just by reading titles I’ve wanted to read. Easy enough eh?

Things I have lined up for the ADULT card at this point include The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy for the “A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER” category and I think The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman for “A BOOK WITH MORE THAN 500 PAGES” and Alice Munro for “A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES” and maybe “Miss Montreal” by Howard Shrier for  “A BOOK WITH A MYSTERY” but I reserve the right to change any or all of these, of course, when another unexpected title rears its head! Such as, for female author category or non-fiction category: Ascent of Women (Sally Armstrong), But Hope is Longer (Tamara Levine) and/or A New Leaf (Marilyn Simonds)!

And then there is the Young Adult Bingo card! I haven’t finished even one title yet but I am so excited about this challenge and it has been so much fun looking for possible reading choices! Here are some that I want to read:

My Book of Life by Angel (Martine Leavitt) will fit in at least two categories so I will have to choose where it fits best after reading; Feed by M. T. Anderson which also fits in at least two categories; Reading-Bingo-YARed Planet by Robert Heinlein for the colour in the title challenge; Seraphina by Rachel Hartman for “A BOOK WITH MUSIC”; The Changeover by Margaret Mahy for “A BOOK WITH MAGIC”; several for the graphic novel but perhaps Sweet Tooth Volume 6.  I have  started “THE FIRST BOOK IN A SERIES”, by Lauren Kate the title of which is Fallen (also the title of the series) and it shows promise in the first half. For the Dragon book and/or the last book of a trilogy I was  considering  Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series but I see it is a four book set now called the Inheritance Cycle so perhaps Book 3, Brisingr, for the “BOOK WITH A DRAGON”. For “A BOOK SET IN PARIS”, I am considering The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen in which the protagonist is eleven so it should be suitable for a strong YA reader. I haven’t narrowed down several of the other categories but doing so will yield many new titles I know and that is what is so pleasureable about these challenges.

So far I’m not making any large-scale promises to myself or anyone else about how far I will get on my cards because sometimes that takes the pleasure out of the experience but almost always a book will fit somewhere in these many and varied categories. If you don’t know about the challenge just put Random House Reading Bingo in your search box and I’m sure you will get there. Turn your reading into an even more positive experience than it already is and, even better, get a friend involved.

 

Sugar Falls by David Alexander Robertson & Scott B. Henderson

Sugar FallsThe story in this graphic novel begins in a high school at the point at which an assignment is given to a class to examine the question of residential schools. The novel is directed at young people but equally informative for adult readers. Daniel is the student doing the assignment and his fellow student, April, offers to help him with his project by putting him in touch with her grandmother (her Kokum) who is a survivor of the residential school system. April arranges a meeting between Daniel and her Kokum at the latter’s workplace. April’s Kokum explains that the story must be told in the Round Room which contains all the sacred medicines and allows her sit on the star blanket of the four directions where she will be safe. April’s Kokum wears traditional clothing and explains that this is always brightly coloured because of Round Room Sugar Fallsthe bland clothing that the students were made to wear in the residential schools. Kokum also explains that she is holding the eagle feather “to honour the past and move forward with courage, honesty, and truth.” She lights some sweet grass and prays: “Here in this circle of life where we are cleansed we can trust in this momentous time.” She helps Daniel get started by telling him that she thinks it will work best if he asks her a question and so he does. “Why did you have to go to the residential school?”Kokum explains that she must start at the beginning when she was about five years old and was tossed out of the house. What she didn’t know at the time about her mother was that she had been a survivor of the residential school system. The young Kokum had to shelter under an overturned canoe for a very long time. She was Under Canoe Sugar Falls

discovered by a man who took her home and accepted her into his family.Happy Family Sugar Falls

But when she was eight years old things changed again and she had to go away to a residential school. Before she went her father took her to a place called Sugar Falls and gave her the best advice he could.At Sugar Falls

He told her that “Relationships…that’s where we find our strength as a people. The beat of the drum represents the strength in our relationships, between our ancestors, our traditions with Mother Earth, and with each other. Knowing this will keep you strong. Always remember these teachings by thinking of our time here at Sugar Falls.”

Kokum went to residential school but not without considerable resistence. That resistence continued until she figured out ways to cope with it. Her story is one that everyone should read and be fully aware of in order  to understand what she and others in North America went through at the hands of those who claimed to know best.Violence at Sugar Falls

What do you know about the Residential Schools in your country? What do you think it would be like to be put in such a school where instructors spoke a language very different from yours and you were not allowed to use your own language? If this happened to you when you were only eight,  do you think you  would have been able to forget it?

This slim volume would be an excellent resource in the hands of adults who are in a position to educate young people regarding the gross indignities which have been practiced upon their fellow Canadians and thereby expand their understanding of their fellow citizens: an excellent introduction which could be expanded by further research.Honour Sugar Falls

Used independently, this book has much to teach and will encourage further investigation. As Kokum says to Daniel when he thanked her for telling him her story: “You honoured me by asking to hear it. Telling these stories is how we will create change. We need to look at the past to teach others our stories and then look forward, together, with knowledge and healing.”

“Sugar Falls is based on the true story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation” -from inside back cover.

“This book was created in remembrance and respect for those who attended residential schools and those who were affected by their legacy.” -also from inside back cover

Note: the book does not say that it is sweet grass that is burned but it seems likely that it was. If I have been mistaken, please let me know.

Muse by Mary Novik

“I first heard my mother’s heartbeat from inside her dark, surrounding womb. It mingled with my own heart’s rhythm, then changed to a harsher, more strident beat. It was then that I had my first and most famous vision of a man kneeling in a purple cassock and biretta.”

“When I was older and further from my mother’s heartbeat, I told her this vision to bring her closer to me”. …My mother told me, “It was the eightieth day of your life, Solange, the day your soul entered your body. You moved inside me, telling me that I was carrying a daughter. This means we will soon have a finer place to live, a bed of riches in another chamber. Now that the Pope and his men have come to Avignon, Fortune will spin her wheel to raise us up.”

The person speaking is Solange Le Blanc and the setting is fourteenth-century Avignon where the Babylonian Captivity was established in 1305 when the pope refused to move to Rome . There were seven popes in Avignon beginning with Pope Clement V. The Roman Curia moved to Poitieres in France in 1305 and then to Avignon in 1309. In Rome itself there was much manoeuvering among the families who had produced the previous popes. These families included the Colonna who are mentioned in this book frequently. Francesco Petrarch was a poet in Colonna’s retinue and his connection to Laura de Noves can be followed up in Wikepedia. Both are major characters in The Muse.

Solange was named sol for the sun and ange for angel because it was claimed that she Musespoke with the tongue of an angel. She gained a reputation for clairvoyance which travelled about the countryside and when her mother died and she was taken to the abbey at Clairefontaine as an oblate where the nuns observed the rule of Saint Benedict.

The abbess in charge was Mother Agnes. Having a clairvoyant at the abbey was a practical matter for she could bring much fame and financial aid to the abbey and make a major difference to the welfare of the inhabitants.

“In my second year in the abbey, the abbess ordered me to run errands for Madame de Forres, a widow from Les Baux-de-Provence, who had just arrived to take her vows and work in the scriptorium. Nothing about Madame looked like a nun, not even her fine cambric wimple. In procession on Ascension Day, she walked a step behind the abbess, who wore the crest of the Clairefontaines and a heavy chain of office to assert her precedence.  Behind the two of them came the obedientiaries – the sacristan with her holy book, the librarian with her quill, the cellaress with her keys, the gardener with her shears, then the others in order of rank. After them flocked the familia: the lay sisters, Elisabeth and me, the servants, and the farm-workers.”

Madame Forres has brought a dowry to the convent and thus her position of importance was assured. She became a mentor to Solange who earned a skill that would be of major importance to her throughout her life as she had no parents and no independent source of wealth. Each day she became more skilled as a scribe.

Solange’s success along with what some determined was second-sight, brought her to the attention of the obedientiaries and she was accused of misconduct and called before a meeting to answer to the chapter. The abbess defends her and claims that the prediction Solange stands accused for was actually a prophecy and the understanding of how serious this could be caused Solange to have a far worse and frightening vision.

“I had never had a vision so profound and the dark intransigent power that had gripped me could return at any time. I did not wish to tell the abbess, for she would twist and transform my ravings into a prophecy that bore no resemblance to what I had seen.”

Events accelerate and Solange’s safety and status in the abbey are threatened further to the point where her entire life hangs in the balance.

“I could take no more. I was done. I must leave the abbey, but I meant to leave by my own power, not be driven out. Within minutes, I gathered a few belongings and was gone.”

She finds her way back to Avignon and the rue du Cheval Blanc and reestablishes herself with her old nanny/nurse Conmère. She sets herself up in business and begins to make a living using her skills as a scribe.Bridge of Saint Benezet 12th century

It is in her capacity as a scribe that she meets Francesco Petrarch who is trying to establish himself as a court poet in the retinue of Cardinal Colonna and who needs fair copies in the finest script to present to the courtiers with influence.

Francesco Petrarch

Above is the bridge of Saint Bénézet built in the 12th century. (www.galenfrysinger.com)

 

 

To the left is a likeness of Francesco Petrarch from Wikipedia.

 

Solange must walk a very fine line to maintain her standing in Avignon and this is a quite remarkable portrait of a truly self-made woman in medieval times. The tale ends as it begins, with Solange writing an account for her daughters of her life in Avignon and her fight for recognition of her accomplishments. “I skewered a fresh sheet of vellum and took a moment to savour its heady scent, for I was about to write the most important document of my life. I sharpened my quill and dipped it generously in ink.”

Mary Novik is also the author of Conceit which was the winner of the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, a Globe and Mail Book of the Year, and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was about the daughter of the poet, John Donne. The author lives in Vancouver and has a website.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

This is my first read by Claire Messud and, although I had planned to start with The Emperor’s Children,  I couldn’t resist this title and intuitively thought I would identify more closely with the main character. The opening  has been described by critics as “explosive” and off putting (Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian) and as “arresting, combative, in-your-face” (Alex Clark also in The Guardian) and all of these are apt in various degrees. I found the opening  very effective as far as interesting me as a reader in the individual who spoke so passionately about her life.

“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that.

I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone – every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty grey and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to day “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/daughter/friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is….”

This is Nora Marie Eldridge speaking who says that her forty-two years are “a lot closer to middle age than forty or even forty-one. Neither old nor young, I’m neither fat nor thin, tall nor short, blonde nor brunette, neither pretty nor plain…What they used to call a spinster, but don’t anymore, because it implies that you’re dried up, and none of us wants to be that. Until last summer, I taught third grade at Appleton Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and maybe I’ll go back and do it again. I just don’t know. Maybe, instead, I’ll set the world on fire. I just might.”

Nora goes on to explain a few things, mainly that she does not swear in front of the The Woman Upstairs (2)children and that her anger does not make her unsuitable to teach children: “let me assure you that everyone of us is capable of rage, and that some of us are prone to it, but that in order to be a good teacher, you must have a modicum of self-control, which I do. I have more than  modicum, I was brought up that way. She also explains that she does not harbor resentment for her miseries against the whole world: she is not an “Underground Woman” who has to “cede and swerve and step aside, unacknowledged and unadmired and unthanked.”

“We’re always upstairs. We’re not the madwomen in the attic – they get lots of play, one way or another. We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound. In our lives of quiet desperation, the woman upstairs is who we are, with or without a goddamn tabby or a pesky lolloping Labrador, and not a soul registers that we are furious. We are completely invisible. I thought it wasn’t true, or not true of me, but I’ve learned that I am no different at all. The question now is how to work it , how to use that invisibility, to make it burn.”

I will continue in Nora’s words because they say it best:

“Life is about deciding what matters. It’s about the fantasy that determines the reality. Have you ever asked yourself whether you’d rather fly or be invisible? I’ve asked people for years, always thinking their answer revealed who they were. I’m surrounded by a world of fliers. Children are almost always fliers. And the woman upstairs, she’s a flier too. Some greedy people ask if they couldn’t have both: and a certain number – I always thought they were the conniving bastards, the power-hungry, the control freaks – choose the vanishing act. But most of us want to fly.”

“As for being invisible, it makes things more real…now that I’ve learned that I really am invisible, I need to stop wanting to fly. I want to stop needing to fly. I ant it all to do over again; but also I don’t.”

Nora makes this all clear in the first seven pages of the novel and then she begins to tell the reader how she learned all this. A fascinating story with rich, likeable characters not the least of which is Nora but which also includes her student Reza Shahid and his mother Sirena and his father Skandar, the former Italian and the latter Lebanese.

Nora is on a search, as she states very clearly, for what matters in life, what gives it meaning. Her search leads her to a somewhat untraditional answer which eludes her for awhile exactly because it doesn’t come in a traditional package. With Nora, we travel back to her childhood and her teenage years and follow the process by which she became a good daughter and a good teacher and lost sight of some of the other parts of herself. And, in travelling with Nora, we may be fortunate enough to be gifted with a re-examination of our own choices.

Nora compares some of her journey to a story by Anton Chekhov called The Black Monk. In her words, “I had a veritable monastery inside me! Each one, in my impassioned interior conversations, granted me some aspect of my most dearly held, most fiercely hidden, heart’s desires: life, art, motherhood, love and the great seductive promise that I wasn’t nothing, that I could be seen for my unvarnished self and that this hidden self, this precious girl without a mask, unseen for decades, could – that she must, indeed – leave a trace upon this world. If this were so, then I could be an artist, and then it would be allowed.”

The above encouraged me to find a copy of Chekhov’s story and read it. It is not necessary for one to read it but it does expand one’s horizons and add another layer to Nora’s story. The story is referenced at least three times in the book.

I found this novel multi-faceted as well as thought-provoking, challenging and inspiring.  There was even room when I finished to consider what there was to be learned from Nora’s experience: I think this gift from an author is a rare thing. I think I will read another Claire Messud novel soon.

Messud has a Canadian mother and attended school at the University of Toronto Schools as well as Cambridge and Yale. Her father was French/Algerian and she lives with her husband James Wood in the US. She grew up in Sydney, Australia and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Britten & Brulightly by Hannah Berry


Britten & Brulightly
This is another first for me: the first review I have done on a graphic novel. This one is British and was published in 2008.

We learn right away that our protagonist is very depressed. The lack of colour tells us this  as do the words “spiteful inevitability” attached to the words “the sun rose”. And then on the second page, we are told that our narrator has stopped bothering to look out the window because the sky would look “bruised and tender” anyway and you might not be able ” to see it through the weather.”

Then we learn that our man opened a private investigation agency ten years ago. His aim was to serve humanity and right wrongs.  But after all that time, he says “the only wrongs righted have been on my [his] tax returns.” His experience of humanity has not been much better: they have included “either jealous lovers seeking justification for their jealousy, or vengeful lovers seeking dirt on jealous lovers,” On top of that, he writes, most of them paid him to tell them what they already knew and those who didn’t would have figured it out eventually. “None of them liked what I had to say.”

He had become known in his field as “The Heartbreaker.”Britten 2

His name is Fernandez Britten and he is often thought to be a foreigner which he is not. He has a partner but his identity only becomes apparent gradually. The partner’s name is Stewart Brülightly and some readers will discover his identity sooner rather than later. I’m not bragging but the last name I suspected was a clue from the beginning. For those who have difficulty suspending belief, remember that we all talk to someone, sometimes a dead loved one, human or animal, sometimes ourselves, sometimes an enemy: the possibilities are endless.

Then Fernandez gets a note which he describes as “peppered with formal niceties”, “a command wrapped in silk and thrown through my window”, “a letter from someone who got what they wanted.” He called the sender,  Charlotte Maughton, and arranges to meet her at Benson’s at twelve. He asks how he will know her and she replies that she will know who he is. So he asks how she will know who he is and she tells him he is to wear a red flower. He wants to know if a hellebore will doHeliotrope for Britten and she asks if it is red. He says “reddish” and she replies, “Wear that.”  All very mysterious wouldn’t you say? And all drawn in the same dark shades. The only colours that appear are the green sweater  and orangish tie of Marvin Kelp, Britten’s office neighbour and a few brownish tones in Charlotte’s hair plus a light blue background on some pages about Gregory Murch and his daughter and a red sweater worn by a waiter.

Ferandez attaches the hellebore to his vest and sets out for Benson’s pointing out to the reader along the way which eating establishments are meant for things such as finding someone to solve a problem quickly, which are for arranging an alibi, which are for discrete discussions and which had waiters who would remember  or forget what they heard depending upon the size of the tip.

Charlotte MaughtonEnter Charlotte Maughton, whom Britten describes as “gliding past the troubled clientele” and looking like how he imagined “a swan might if it were on lithium.”

Britten explains that he is a “researcher”, a term he prefers to “private eye”. He asks what line of work Charlotte is in and her answer is that her father is in publishing and so she is not in any line of work. Britten gets right down to business. “You mentioned something in your message about….”

Charlotte fills in the blank: “Murder?” And so the stage is set. Charlotte believes her fiancé was murdered. And so Britten has a serious case and the real “joy” of this particular graphic novel begins in earnest. The mystery is like any other and the reader’s “joy” in the unravelling…uh, well joy is a pretty strong word in Britten’s world so I won’t go that far. But it is enjoyable to try and work alongside Britten and see if one can figure it out. If you haven’t tried a graphic novel and like mystery books, this might be a good place to try out such a novel. It will read quickly …only 100 pages…and you’ll be able to add a new genre to your reading experience.

Hannah Berry’s website states that she lives in Brighton with a cat, a tortoise and a beloved Frenchman. She teaches/tutors courses on graphic novels and is also a writer, illustrator, occasional lecturer and editorial gun-for-hire.