books for starters

Sept. 2014

arent i lovely 1945 - Copy (2)My mother was a great reader and so am I. These days I don’t have a television or internet, so I am gobbling down books at the rate of one a day. I joined the library a few days ago– what a treasure trove! I took out four books and I am now reading the fourth one.

My sister has a lot of the books that have been on our shelves since before we were children. I remember reading the children’s books, which are in a box at my daughter’s house. But there are some other books which I had not read, in spite of seeing them on the shelves for years. When I left my sister’s, I brought some with me. One was called Ester Ried, which was inscribed Clara M. G. Armstrong, Otonabe, Xmas 1895. I started to read it, but it was quickly clear that it was sort of a missionary book and in spite of its age, I did not want to read it. However, there were two that I read with great pleasure.

plains of abrahamThe first was called The Plains of Abraham by Oliver James Curwood. This red volume had been given to my mother in 1941 from her Aunt Prim, (Primrose, her mother’s sister). It was set in what was about to be Canada in the late 1700s. The main protagonist is a young man named Jeems, the son of a Frenchman from New France and and English woman from the colonies. From childhood Jeems was sweet on Toinette, the daughter of the local seigneur, who had a mill a few miles from the home in the Forbidden Valley where Jeems grew up with his loving parents. Toinette spurned him, much to his heartache. Jeems’ uncle, Hepsibah Adams, was a man who spent much time trading and travelling in the wild. He knew many of the Indians, as they were called then, and taught Jeems some of the Seneca language. One day Jeems was in the forest with his trusty dog Odd (who had only 3 feet due to an accident). Odd seemed upset so they turned around and when they returned to the homestead found that his parents had been killed by Mohawks. He then went to the mill, where he found those people had also been killed. He fully expected to find Toinette’s body, but instead when he went into the mill, he found her with a musket, which she used to shoot him, injuring him. She had been taught to despise his family and was shocked to find that his family also had been slaughtered. They decided to escape but were found by some Indians, who turned out to be Seneca and were shocked that Jeems could speak some of their language. They were enemies of the Mohawk and decided to take Jeems and Toinette with them. The chief, Tiaoga, adopted Toinette as his daughter, since his own daughter had drowned not long before. The young couple were taken to the Hidden Village, which was near what is now Niagara Falls. There followed more heartrenching adventures which I will not tell here. In the preface the author tells us that his great-grandmother was Indian and the people he wrote about were real. It is an amazing story from the time when New France was becoming Quebec. It was a very good read and I was sorry I had not read it before. In fact, Curwood was a prolific writer and I hope to find more books by him at the library.

above suspicionThe other book was a birthday gift to my mother on her 16th birthday in 1942 by her friends Diana, Barbara and Mary Isobel Stedman, names I heard as I was growing up. By then the Second World War was in full swing and this book is set before the war actually started. Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnes tells the story of a young English couple who were asked by their old friend to meet with agents in Europe to ascertain that the agents were indeed still working. The couple were to be on vacation and were to arrange to meet various people in various European towns. One clue for the agents was the red rose that Frances wore in her hair as well as a song. Along the way they meet an American journalist and a young English man, who help them. Of course they all run into various adventures and have the opportunity to expound on the evil of the Nazis. One comment that I like was that the seeming efficiency of the Nazi clicking heels and abrupt salutes helped people to believe in them and covered up who they really were. The book was well written and as they travelled the descriptions of the places were interesting, though I wonder how much they have changed since then. This was another good read that I gobbled up.  (Note: as I was looking for an image for this, I discovered that it had been made into a movie and that MacInnes also wrote quite a few other books).

sugar camp quiltA newer book that caught my attention was The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini. My sister is a quilter, which is why I got it, read it, and passed it on to her. The sugar camp quilt was made by a young woman named Dorothea under strict instructions from her cranky uncle. He left it in the maple sugar cabin, much to her dismay, and after his death she and her parents learned that he left it there as a sort of map for black slaves escaping from the south. The cabin was a station along the underground railway. For a while in the story Dorothea is wooed by a young man, Cyrus, who moved on when he learned that she had no dowry. She was a school teacher who was supplanted by Nelson, who she did not like, but of course that changed. It was a good story and an interesting piece about the underground railroad. In fact, I heard many years ago that that railroad came up here as far as Barrie, to the Shanty Bay area. However, I don’t recall many black people in Barrie when I was growing up, so perhaps that was only a story.

one underA friend from Toronto brought me several books when she and her husband came to visit. She knows that I love to read, as she does. One of these books is one under by Graham Hurley. The title refers to the fact that a body has been run over by a train. The police set to unravel the story of the body and how it came to be there, with the main characters being Joe Faraday and Paul Winter. The latter has some old school methods of finding out things. The other characters include big time crooks as well as housewives that have gone astray. The ending was not predictable, which gets a high mark from me.

out stealing horsesOut Stealing Horses by Per Petterson was another one from my friend. It is the story of a 67 year old man who has bought a small cabin in remote Norway. As we hear his story we also hear the story of his father, who was a resistance agent during WWII. The young narrator told of how they stayed in a cabin on the river. The stealing horses part was early on, when his friend Jon invited him to steal horses from the rich man across the river. They didn’t actually steal them, just rode them. It turned out that Jon’s brother had accidentally killed his twin with Jon’s loaded gun. And just as accidentally, the surviving twin, Lars, was our narrator’s neighbour when they were both old. The story was interesting and easy to follow, another in the genre of Scandinavian fiction.

scottish prisonerAnd the first library books. The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon is part of The Outlander series. I had read The Outlander when I was in Istanbul, a good adventure. This one was also very good. Jamie Fraser was the main protagonist, along with Lord John Grey. They were set with the task of bringing Siverly to court-martial for corruption, among other things. They had to go to Ireland to get him, but they reluctantly accepted the company of Toby Quinn, who was hoping to get Jamie to take part in a new Jacobite uprising. Since Jamie was a prisoner because of that uprising, he did not want to take part in it, knowing that it would be futile. Of course there were many adventures and close calls, but also the friendship between the erstwhile enemies, Fraser and Grey, grew. The story ended but it was an open ending, so I am sure there are more to come.

invincibleI also picked up Invincible by Diana Palmer. It turned out it was a Harlequin romance type of book, where the virginal Carlie is at attractive odds with the Oglala Sioux Carson, an incredibly handsome loner of a wolf. The plot involved threats to Carlie’s life, as well as her father’s, a former free agent in the black ops. The plot was interesting, and the outcome was predictable, but it was a good read for a popcorn book.

dog will have his dayDog Will Have His Day by Fred Vargas was a French mystery. The protagonist, Louis or Ludwig Kehlweiler, was an odd sort of person whose mission in life was to find ‘bombs’, people who were evil, related to the Second World War, among other things. The dog in this story was one who had bitten the toe off an old woman who had been killed on the sea shore, though initially her death was considered an accident. Louis found a bone in the washed off dog shit in a public park in Paris. He took it to a very disliked commissioner, who poohed poohed it, which Louis used later to discredit him. Louis had help from Marc, a student of the Middle Ages, and Marc’s friend Matthias, who was a silent student of paleontology. Much of the story took place in a small seaside town in Brittany. The characters were interesting and the ending events were unexpected.

forgotten gardenThe last of the four books was The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. It was the story of Nell, who had been left on a boat that went to Australia, where she was taken in by the port master. It was also the story of her granddaughter Cassandra, who inherited Nell’s house in Brisbane and also an unknown house in Cornwall. Cassandra learned that Nell had a secret past that she was trying to unravel, so Cassandra went to Cornwall to unravel it herself. The story went back and forth from the time of Nell’s family to Nell’s trip to Cornwall and then to Cassandra’s trip there. One of the other main characters was Eliza Makepeace, a writer of stories for children. It was very interesting to follow the threads and of course at one point there was brief homage to Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote The Secret Garden. It was a good read as the threads finally came together to solve the many mysteries of this family. I also have to say I loved the picture of the fairies, as it reminded me of many books from my childhood (those being from my mother and my grandmother), which I am sure was meant to be. The story also makes one think about family memories and individual histories and how they affect each person directly or not.

Stay tuned for more! Even with internet now i am consuming books…

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