It has been a great month for reading great books. Several titles are deserved of shout-outs and will be on my list of great reads of 2022. Special favourites are titles by favourite authors who have given us another great title where we once again meet beloved characters (Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout; Maureen Fry: and the angel of the North by Rachel Joyce and All The Broken Places by John Boyne).
BANNED BOOKS: The World’s Most Controversial Books, Past and Present /DK Penguin Random House / nonfiction
Page by page, this book provides a document of controversial, provocative, and revolutionary literature whose publication has been been curtailed at some point in history. An overview and description of titles that have been is provided in 1-3 pages, with illustration. Some titles include The Canterbury tales, Frankenstein, Ulysses, 1984, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingvird, I Know Why the Caged Bird sings, The Handmaid’s Tale, and more recently The Kite Runner, The Absoultely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You.
THE BOY WITH TWO HEARTS: A story of hope by Hamed Amiri / biography
After his mother speaks out against he Taliban and is threatened with being executed, Hamed Amiri’s family is forced to flee Afghanistan and set out on a dangerous journey for a year and a half across Russia and Europe before arriving in the UK. Episodes of hiding and robbery and survival are harrowing. Moreover, the author recounts his brother’s crisis with a damaged heart and the desperate need to seek asylum and get sound medical care in the UK. I chose to read this book because I went to see a theatre production of this family’s story at the National Theatre. The harrowing autobiographical story was better in book form than as a play which was a faithful translation of the Amiri journey as refugees and the brother’s deteriorating heart condition.
JUST BY LOOKING AT HIM by Ryan O’Connell
This is the story of Elliott, a thirty-five-year old, gay fellow with Cerebral Palsy. He has a well-paid job as a writer for a Television comedy. He has a rather steady relationship with Gup but even though they’ve been together for 6 years (five and three-quarters), Elliott is questioning his gay lifestyle, his new-found interest (obsession) in hiring sex workers, his drinking problem and his identity as a disabled person. Ryan O’Connell has appeared in the Netflix series Special and currently can be seen as a character in Queer as folk. As a writer, he is observant, witty and often moving in his reflections and introspections. This is a book layered with honesty, heart and laughter.
PICTURES FROM HOME by Larry Sultan (photography; autobiography)
I had never heard of the American photographer, Larry Sultan, but when I learned that his book Pictures From Home was being made into a play that was going to be produced on Broadway in 2023, I decided to get this book in preparation for seeing the play (starring Nathan Lane, Zoe Wannamaker and Danny Burstein). Sultan’s work is documentary in style, with staged images (that seem to be spontaneous candid shots). In this book, first published in 1992 and re-released in 2017. photographs that apparently features still footage excerpted from home movie , along with is a tribute and story to his parents Irving and Jean and their life in Southern California suburbia. Throughout the book, the author’s voice and transcripts of his mother’s and father’s conversations help create a biography of an All-American Family (a Jewish family), the pursuit of the American dream and the a revelation what may seem ordinary inside and outside a home. I look forward to seeing the play.
SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE by Claire Keegan
A good friend suggested that I might like this book. (Isn’t it terrific when your friends know what books you might like?) Small Things Like These is a small novella (114 pages) but it’s themes and emotions are so affecting. The story is set in 1985 Ireland. The protagonist is Bill Furlong, a coal and fuel merchant who’s business keeps his family wife of five girls afloat while others are struggling. Christmas is approaching and Bill goes about his deliveries, with stories of his past swimming through his head. An encounter with nuns at a local laundry sets further contemplation and worries for Furlong. A quiet book where the landscape of an Irish community and the landscape of a compassionate hard-working man’s mind intersect. A gem of a book!!!
ALL THE BROKEN PLACES by John Boyne
All the Broken Places is a sequel of sorts to the author’s international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pajamas which has sold over 11 million copies worldwide and is a huge success, despite some controversy of historical accuracy. Boyne first conceived the idea for this new novel shortly after completing The Boy in 2006. This book centres on the character of ninety-one year old Gretel Fernsby, now living a comfortable life in London but deeply haunted by the crimes of her father the commandant of Auschwitz and the responsibility she had in her brother’s death. The narrative and settings of Gretel’s story change from London, to Paris, to Australia to Berlin. The widow is determined to hold the secrets of the past in her heart until confronted by others who will unpack the truth. A central story involves her relationship with young Henry who lives in Greta’s apartment building. Henry’s abusive, domineering father is something that Gretel hopes to deal with, even though it threatens her true identity and current comforts in life. I’m not sure that it is essential to have read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas but having that story inside you will certainly have an impact on reading this sequel. And even thought the audience for Pajamas was young adolescents, All the Broken Places is intended for adult readers. I am a HUGE fan of John Boyne’s writing (both for adults and young people). I’ve always wondered when reviews commented that a book was ‘gripping’ but All the Broken Places was Gripping with a capital G. A devastating story of grief and of guilt. A At the top of my best reads of 2022, if not at the very top! Astounding!!!!
AMY & LAN by Sadie Jones
I’m drawn to adult books which have young people as the central protagonists (e.g. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart) and British author Sadie Jones presents two narrators, Amy & Lan, two dear friends who grow up in a west country farm in England. Amy’s and Lan’s parents who are best friends (and another family) move to place called Firth determined to fulfill a dream of living on a farm. The chapters alternate between Amy and Lan’s voices as they observe a life of growing vegetables, milking goats, slaughtering chickens and scything hay. The grown-ups are far too busy to keep an eye on their children which suits Amy & Lan as they have adventures of their own, partake in celebrations and countryside rituals and come-of-age through encounters of family, friends, strangers and animals. The family’s decision to move from the city was a brave one and persevere they do. As the two main characters pass from year to year they offer a telescopic view of nature, loyalty and betrayal. I so loved the farm as character. I so loved the bond between this young boy and girl, their courage, humour and resilience. I so loved this book.
LUCY BY THE SEA by Elizabeth Strout
My oh my! What a special writer Elizabeth Strout is, indeed one of my favourite authors for adult fiction. I have always enjoyed reading about Lucy Barton (My Name is Lucy Barton; Oh William!) and I’m going to say that this new novel is the best of the best. In this story Lucy’s ex-husband lures the celebrated author away from her home in New York to live in a little house in Maine in order to be protected her from the trials and fears of the Pandemic. We learn about Lucy’s dealing with the grief after losing a loving husband, of her devotion to her two daughters, and events from her years of poverty that shaped her outlook on life. It is a story of panic and worry and regrets and hope and deep human connections. What a marvel Elizabeth Strout is at conjuring fictional memories, dreams and conversations. Oh those wonderful wonderful anecdotes :Lucy/ Elizabeth conjures up about people sin her past and present life. As Lucy, Strout writes. “This is the question that has made me a writer: always the deep desire to know what it feels like to be a different person.” I finished reading this early this morning with goosebumps on my skin and in my heart.Absolutely Lucy By The Sea will be on my top list of great reads in 2022. Exquisite!
MAUREEN FRY and the Angel of the North by Rachel Joyce
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of my all time favourite novels. I so enjoyed The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy where we revisit a special character from the first book. With Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North, Rachel Joyce completes the trilogy. Settled into her life with her husband, Harold, Maureen Fry receives unsettling message from Northern England and is determined to embarks on a journey to visit the Garden of Relics assembled by Queenie in Northern England. Her mission is to find an answer to the mysterious monument created for her son, David, who had committed suicide. Readers accompany Maureen as comes to term with her past, deals with grief and comes to learn more about herself and the world of kindnesses and love. Joyce has written another novel with deep feeling, p0werful encounters, and poignant views of the world we live in. Thank you Ms. Joyce for this touching novel , which though short (126 pages), packs a punch for one of your many fans.
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THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday
A handbook of personal stories and paintings; a list of 52 things to look forward to
Award winning author-illustrator Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse; If You Come to Earth…) presents a collection of joyful things to consider, to aspire to to ensure that we life is lived optimistically. Through 52 short personal stories accompanied with remarkable paintings, Blackall offers a handbook of things to notice to make the most of our time here on Earth: A Hot Shower; A New Word; First Snow; A Full Moon; Listening to a Song You’ve Never Heard Before; Moving the Furniture Around; Making A List; Coming Home. I so loved this inspirational gem that I bought 10 copies that will take care of much of my Christmas / Chanukah gift-giving for friends and relatives young and old.