Monday 23 December 2019

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere
By Celeste Ng

Shaker Heights is a perfect town outside of Cleveland.  It’s been planned, manicured and held to the highest standards for over a hundred years.  Well-educated parents raise children in Shaker who grow up to be the next generation of perfect.  

Elena Richardson is no exception.  A journalist by trade, Elena is married to a lawyer and has four children, just as she planned.  Lexie, Trip and Moodie are all different but fit well into the grand Richardson design, or so Elena thinks.  Only Izzy is a thorn in her side, constantly challenging Elena’s beliefs and trying her patience.

Enter Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl.  Mia is an artist with little money.  She takes random jobs to survive and has been moving from place to place for as long as Pearl can remember.  This time, Mia has promised Pearl that they will stay put.  Elena feels she is doing them a favour by letting them rent an apartment from her.  She even offers Mia a job cooking and cleaning in the Richardson home.

But Mia and Pearl become much more entwined with the Richardson household than anyone ever imagined.  Teenage Pearl befriends the Richardson siblings, especially Moodie, and begins spending her afternoons lounging on the couch with them watching Jerry Springer.  Izzy, on the other hand, by all accounts a rebel, befriends Mia and insists on helping her with her art.  Mia does not hold Izzy to her mother’s standards and just lets her be who she is.

But Elena becomes curious about Mia.  Who is this woman who has infiltrated her life, and who is her daughter?  As Elena begins to dig into Mia’s past, secrets are revealed.  Little does she know that her own children have many secrets too. 

Little Fires Everywhere is amazingly readable.  As she did in Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng questions parents who require their children to fit into predetermined molds and examines the effects on the children.  Some cope better than others, but all of them hide their true selves from their parents.  

Ng also has an uncanny ability to make you question your own parenting skills.  Her very believable characters all think they are doing the right thing.  But as parents, you never really know, do you?

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Riveting tales from the crematory

Smoke Gets in your Eyes - Doughty, CaitlinI first encountered Caitlin Doughty while watching Ted Talks. Her talk, A burial practice that nourishes the planet, explores different ideas for burial that don’t pollute the environment with toxic, cancer-causing formaldehyde. It was absolutely fascinating, so when I learned that she was a published author with three books, I wasted no time getting my hands on them.   

From Here to Eternity - Doughty, CaitlinIn Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Doughty tells the story of her journey into the funeral industry, from crematory assistant, then mortuary school, to founder of the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death. The book opens with her first day as a crematory assistant, flashes back to her first encounter with death, and goes over frank and often graphic descriptions of what happens to bodies at the funeral home and beyond. It’s definitely not a book for the faint of heart, but far from being all sadness, horror and gore, this book is also hilarious, candid, and empowering. Doughty challenges the idea of death avoidance that has permeated our society’s death rituals in the last hundred years with the rise of the multimillion-dollar funeral industry. She challenges the reader to ask themselves what do you want to happen to your body when you die?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? - Doughty, CaitlinHer next two books are equally enjoyable and fascinating. In From Here To Eternity, Doughty explores different current cultural death rituals. From Zoroastrian sky burials, to Bolivian natitas, and Japanese kotsuage ceremonies, there is an immense diversity on how humans care for the dead. In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty answers questions children have posed about death such as can Grandma have a Viking funeral?, or what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated?

Death is inevitable. No matter how much we might not want to, we will all, eventually, die. It is an unchangeable and, at times, terrifying truth. It certainly terrified me, but after reading Dougthy’s three books, death feels less frightening and more like just another part of being human. It is not something I’m looking forward to but it is not something I avoid talking about. I most definitely recommend these fascinating, hilarious, and poignant books to those of a curious mind and a brave heart. 

Friday 1 November 2019

New World

Richmond Public Library recently received a bunch of brand-new Graphic Novels which prompted me to revisit this genre. When I saw New World, I was immediately drawn to the striking artwork and knew I had to read this book.  David Jesus Vignolli, a Brazilian graphic novelist, weaves the story of an Indigenous Brazilian warrior, an enslaved African musician, and a Portuguese sailor who come together to battle the pale white giants who have invaded the New World. 

When Iracema discovers the enslaved African people living near her tribe, she must take up arms to free them from the Portuguese colonialists. With this purpose in mind, Iracema goes deep into the woods and is bestowed a lightning bow from the God Tupa. This bow is the only way to protect her people from monsters and evil beings. Along with a band of warriors, Iracema invades the colonialist settlement to free the slaves; however, horrible monsters attack the brave warriors and many perish in the fight. Amakai, a man being sold at the slave auction that day, manages to escape the fight and rescue Iracema from the fray. He is an African prince who can play a flute that draws out the monsters of men. Together, they might have what it takes to take on the monstrous colonialists and protect the New World. 

This book has a fair smattering of historical context and weaves many stories together in a compelling way. There is an overarching narrative on the colonisation of South America scattered through the stories of the main protagonists, Iracema and Amakai.  Magical realism provides a backdrop for this tale, making an easy connection between slave traders and monsters.  While there are illustrations of monstrous figures throughout the story, it is hard to say if the monsters are real or just a projection of the slave owners.  Paired with a simplistic yet colourful and clear art style, there are many nuances to the story left unwritten but open for interpretation. 

Friday 25 October 2019

By Gaslight

By Gaslight
By Gaslight
By Steven Price

In the foggy, gaslit streets of London, 1885, William Pinkerton of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency has arrived from Chicago.  The dark, hulking Pinkerton has not come on official business, but rather to track down his father’s old nemesis, Edward Shade.  Although Pinkerton senior, also a detective, is known for getting his man, Shade has eluded him for decades.

Pinkerton’s information is that an old associate of Shade’s can be found in London.  Charlotte Reckitt is of questionable character, and she does her best to evade Pinkerton.  But when she turns up dead, Pinkerton gets involved with the case through his contacts at Scotland Yard.

Enter Adam Foole, a former love interest of Reckitt’s and a grifter himself.  Foole is a gentleman with a knack for disguises.  He steals through wit, intelligence and careful planning, and rejects violence as a means to an end.  Still, his team is made up of Fludd, the protector (a.k.a. “the giant”), and Molly, a young girl with a checkered past whom he has taken in off he streets.

Much to his colleagues’ chagrin, Foole teams up with Pinkerton in a desperate attempt to find Charlotte’s killer.  The unlikely pair make their way through the dank, dangerous and often gruesome streets of London, venturing into the back-alley bars and even the sewers to find a lead.  Pinkerton begins to trust Foole, and the two respect each other.  But Foole holds secrets that eventually throw Pinkerton into a tailspin, totally upending his beliefs about his father and his search for Edward Shade.

Author Steven Price drew me in right away with a riveting mystery set in a very believable historic London.  Keep in mind, By Gaslight is not a book for the faint of heart.  It is a grim mystery that mostly takes place in the parts of London that are rife with poverty and struggle.  But it also reads like an epic, moving back and forth through time and history, and bringing all the characters together for its thrilling conclusion.