Thursday, 10 September 2020

Leaving Earth by Helen Humphreys

Today I finished reading Leaving Earth, by Helen Humphreys.

On August 1, 1933, Two Young Women, the famous aviatrix Grace O'Gorman and the inexperienced Willa Briggs, take off in a tiny Moth biplane to break the world flight endurance record. Their plan: to circle above the city of Toronto for twenty-five days.So begins Leaving Earth, a haunting evocation of an era when heroic women defied the limitations of their sex by embarking on perilous ventures. 

Sponsored by the Adventure Girl Almanac, "Air Ace Grace" and Willa soar above the city while below the Depression takes its toll and the shadows of the coming war lengthen. But as the days pass, the women's ties to humanity fall away, and the growing intensity of their connection becomes as gripping as the perils that besiege them. 

For the two pilots, there is no speech over the wind's rush, only an elaborate sign language in which they must invent the world anew. All the while, the endurance test wears on, its outcome jeopardized by fatigue, weather, mechanical breakdown, and the lethal efforts of a saboteur.

This was Humphreys first novel which not only won the won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award, but it also was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. I can see why.

The story was interesting and suspenseful. From all which I've read and researched of the period, Humphreys did an excellent job of capturing the Toronto of 1933, both in her description of the city itself and the events which took place during the time frame of the book.

The story is not only of the flight, which is described mostly by Willa in the rear cockpit seat, but also on the family of Maddy Stewart, a young 12 year old girl who idolizes Grace O'Gorman. Maddy is the child of a Jewish mother and her Scottish father. The family runs the amusement park at Hanlan's point.

Leaving Earth is a story of endurance, growing a trusting friendship without being able to verbally communicate, the rise of Nazism in Canada and the world below the two aviators struggling with the depression.

It's a novel worth reading.

Helen Humphreys is the author of four books of poetry, five novels, and one work of creative non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her dog, Hazel. Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 

Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her third novel, The Lost Garden (2002), was a 2003 Canada Reads selection, a national bestseller, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Wild Dogs (2004) won the 2005 Lambda Prize for fiction, has been optioned for film, and was produced as a stage play at CanStage in Toronto in the fall of 2008. Coventry (2008) was a #1 national bestseller, was chosen as one of the top 100 books of the year by the Globe & Mail, and was chosen one of the top ten books of the year by both the Ottawa Citizen and NOW Magazine. Humphreys's work of creative non-fiction, The Frozen Thames (2007), was a #1 national bestseller. Her collections of poetry include Gods and Other Mortals (1986); Nuns Looking Anxious, Listening to Radios (1990); and, The Perils of Geography (1995). Her latest collection, Anthem (1999), won the 2000 Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry. 

Humphreys's work has been translated into many languages.


Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

I'm a fan of Robert J. Sawyer but haven't read one of his books for awhile. This week I corrected that by reading his 2016 sci-fi novel, Quantum Night.

Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously—a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible—change human nature—before the entire world descends into darkness.

Like many of his books, the science involved in the story is deep but well explained. There were places in the story where I was a little confused, but after pressing on, the idea would become clear. It's a well thought out story line and an interesting read.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan.

Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young age and he vividly remembers watching the televised Apollo missions.

Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor. Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English.

A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

Today I sat outside and finished Blue Ticket by UK author, Sophie Mackintosh.

Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you children. A blue ticket grants you freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And, once you've taken your ticket, there is no going back. 

But what if the life you're given is the wrong one? 

Blue Ticket is a devastating enquiry into free will and the fraught space of motherhood. Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies.

I enjoy stories which take place in dystopian societies. Although no places or countries were named in this novel, I'm sure it takes place in Wales, England or some other imaginary place like it. Not surprising, as Ms. Mackintosh is from South Wales. It is not a futuristic novel as this society's technology seems very 1980ish to me. 

Calla's blue ticket, one she hoped for, was supposed to give her freedom. As she goes off on her own, though, she feels a loss, a heaviness inside her. Finally she does something about it.

Her story is told in first person, past tense, which is her telling the reader of what and how she remembers the past. It's a type of narrative which allows a reader to get inside the characters mind and to feel her emotions and Mackintosh does this very well. What I did find it distracting at first, but quickly became used to, was the book contains no quotation marks, which, of course, it wouldn't as the character of Calla, is telling her story in her own words.

It's an interesting, deep and dark tale. One I enjoyed reading. I can see why the authors debut novel, The Water Cure, made the long list for the Man Booker Prize.  

Monday, 3 August 2020

Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)

There is a three volume Sci-fi series called, The Illuminae Files. I finished the first volume, Illuminae, back in January. Today, I finished Volume 2, Gemina.

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands

I found the first 100 pages of the 658 page book, slow moving and boring, It was necessary as it provides a background to a few of the main characters. After that, the story moves into hyper-drive. Don't let the 658 pages intimidate you. This is a fast reading book with the story laid out in a unique fashion. Many of the pages are texts between the characters, pictures or effects. 

Confused? You'll need to read it to understand what I'm saying. 

Written as Young Adult series, this is a great read for any fans of the Sci-fi genre. I already have and am looking forward to reading the third book of the series, Obsidio.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek

I was lucky to get The Answer is ... Reflections on My Life, the autobiography of Alex Trebek, the moment it came out.

Longtime Jeopardy! host and television icon Alex Trebek reflects on his life and career. Since debuting as the host of Jeopardy! in 1984, 

Alex Trebek has been something like a family member to millions of television viewers, bringing entertainment and education into their homes five nights a week. Last year, he made the stunning announcement that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. What followed was an incredible outpouring of love and kindness. Social media was flooded with messages of support, and the Jeopardy! studio received boxes of cards and letters offering guidance, encouragement, and prayers. 

For over three decades, Trebek had resisted countless appeals to write a book about his life. Yet he was moved so much by all the goodwill, he felt compelled to finally share his story. “I want people to know a little more about the person they have been cheering on for the past year,” he writes in The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life. 

The book combines illuminating personal anecdotes with Trebek’s thoughts on a range of topics, including marriage, parenthood, education, success, spirituality, and philanthropy. Trebek also addresses the questions he gets asked most often by Jeopardy! fans, such as what prompted him to shave his signature mustache, his insights on legendary players like Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer, and his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live impersonation.

The book uses a novel structure inspired by Jeopardy!, with each chapter title in the form of a question, and features dozens of never-before-seen photos that candidly capture Trebek over the years. This wise, charming, and inspiring book is further evidence why Trebek has long been considered one of the most beloved and respected figures in entertainment.

Many times, I've started an autobiography which I've lost interest in quickly. Others I have enjoyed but this is one of the very few which I found to be excellent. It's written pretty much the way Alex talks and I could hear his voice in my head while I read.

I love how the book is set up. Short, 2 to 3 page stories of moments and memories of his life, done in chronological order. Some are funny, some make you think or ponder. It's a great look behind the scenes, not only of Jeopardy but of his life. Alex Trebek is known pretty much everywhere in Canada and the US.

This is a great read for any fan of his.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

"Fair" by Ed Seaward

Today, I finished reading Fair, the debut novel from author Ed Seaward.

In this spare, poetic novel, a young homeless man finds solace in friendship, falls prey to the machinations of a malevolent gang of thugs, and ultimately is swallowed up by the inevitability of consequences on the dangerous and deceptively sunny streets of L.A.

This is the story about a homeless young man, Eyan (pronounced Ian) who lives in the parks and alleys of Los Angeles. He has a learning disability and as a result is uneducated. His story is one of survival. Happy to live on his own, he has a chance meeting with a childhood friend Marc who takes him to meet a man simply called the professor, who once taught at the University of Chicago.

The professor enjoys teaching Eyan and telling him stories. Eyan's favorite is Paradise Lost written by John Milton in 1667. Seaward has included seven etchings of various scenes from that story which were created by William Strang and included in a 1896 copy of the book published in London. At the end of the book, Seaward explains the reason for their inclusion in this novel: They are presented herein to enrich the reading experience and to invite readers to engage with the story through a different means of artistic interpretation.

Fair is a literary work, descriptive and gritty which gives allows the reader to get inside Eyan's head. It's a different style of story that I usually am drawn to and I'm glad I read it.

Ed Seaward completed his first novel, Son of Jack Nasty, in 2011 (as yet unpublished). Since then he has written a number of short stories and screenplays, including Mother Daughter Happiness, which was a screenplay finalist at the 2019 Pasadena International Film Festival. Fair will be published by The Porcupine’s Quill in April, 2020. After thirty years in the corporate world, he now spends his time cashing pension cheques, writing, and volunteering with Canadian Authors—Toronto. He and his wife Barb split their time living in Georgetown, Ontario and Santa Monica, California.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis

I have always enjoyed the music of the tango from the first time I heard it. In fact I've always wanted to learn to dance it. So when I saw The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis, who is from an Uruguayan family, a family who has lived in many countries around the world and that it was about living in the time of the start of Tango, I had to read it.

February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life.

Richly evocative of place and time, its prose suffused with the rhythms of the tango, its narrative at once resonant and gripping, this is De Robertis’s most accomplished novel yet.

The Gods of Tango does a great job of taking the reader back to the Argentina of the early 1900's and what was the early time of tango. De Robertis does a great job of painting a visualization of that gritty era. What amazed me the most was how, through her descriptions of Leda/Dante listening to, or playing the tango, how I could hear it in my head. The story is excellent and goes in directions which I never expected.

An excellent story, told well. Now, I have an urge to take a tango class.