Play It Like It’s 1986

0385368267.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell ★★★★⅓
Source: National Library OverDrive Collection
Narrators: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra
Edition: Listening Library (2013), Unabridged MP3; 8h56
Original publication date: 2013

When new girl Eleanor shows up on the school bus one day, things start out very badly for her when nobody wants to make room for her, even though there are still plenty of empty seats left. She’s overweight, has long wild curly, very red hair and is dressed pretty strangely, and though this is 1986 and new wave music and punk rock rule, her kind of weirdness just doesn’t fly. Park happens to be a misfit of sorts too, being the only half-Korean in an otherwise all-white or black Omaha, Nebraska, though he’s managed to fly under the radar with strategic friendships and alliances, and he’s not sure he’s willing to compromise that for the new girl, but he can’t help himself from wanting to help Eleanor when he bluntly tells her to just sit next to him on that first day, and there she’ll sit henceforth on their daily trips to school and back. He doesn’t find Eleanor attractive exactly, but for some reason, he starts sharing his beloved comic books with her, like the Watchmen series, and then introducing her to some of his favourite music like The Smiths and The Cure and Alphaville and Elvis Costello (and the list goes on and on as the book progresses).

Eleanor has never heard any of this music, so he makes her mixed tapes, but in her typical brusque way she refuses to take the first one, till he finally figures out she’s refusing because she has no way of listening to it; she then just as rudely refuses when he helpfully offers to loan her his Walkman, till his kindness and insistence wear her down. They’ve soon got a friendship going, based on all the things Park likes, including many more mixed tapes, which prove to be a salvation for Eleanor, because her home life is a living hell. Her mother’s taken up with a violent alcoholic called Richie who doesn’t hesitate to hit on his wife on a whim and threaten Eleanor and her four younger siblings with unnamed injuries. They’re so poor they don’t have a phone in the house, in which the bathroom and the kitchen share a space and aren’t even separated by a door. To add to her misery, Eleanor is being bullied at school, persecuted by one of the most popular girls, and then regularly finds disgusting pornographic inscriptions on the covers of her school manuals which she has no idea who could be putting there.

As friendship progresses to declared love, Park invites Eleanor into his home. Eleanor knows the respite she finds there with his parents, who slowly come to accept her despite her strange appearance and awkward ways, can only be temporary, because her parents, and especially Richie, are bound to find out about this relationship, which over the months she’s been passing off as time spent with a fictitious girlfriend, and she also knows without a doubt there’ll be a price to pay when Richie finds out. Only, things keep getting better and better with Park, who fills her life with music and makes her feel things she never knew she had the capacity to feel before.

Many people on LT raved about this book and I remained skeptical about whether I’d like it too since YA fiction doesn’t always do it for me, but it ended up being a big winner. I happen to be the same age as our two main protagonists, so was just as influenced by most of the music which is mentioned in the book (The Smiths were my all-time favourites back then), and though I thankfully never had the kind of nightmarish home life Eleanor has, I could definitely identify with her feeling like the odd girl out and the bullied misfit at school. Rainbow Rowell writes sensitively and realistically about what it feels like to be a teenager and to experience first love and complete bewilderment and fear, all this in a way that also makes for compelling reading. She also has an interesting take on the parents, who each deal with challenging life situations in their own individual ways, some showing willingness to grow and evolve, and some, not so much, just like real-life people in other words.

***

This book ended up causing me to spend a small fortune on iTunes. I haven’t been listening to much music of late because am constantly plugged into audiobooks, but I was compelled to create my own “1986” soundtrack and made lots of new additions to my golden 80s oldies collection. I partially based myself on Rainbow Rowell’s own playlist as posted on her blog; music which inspired her as she wrote the various scenes of the book, then added a few from a list the songs mentioned in the book. I added to that all my favourite Smiths songs missing from my catalogue beyond How Soon Is Now (I’d forgotten how arty the music video was), like Shout by Tear for Fears, which was a huge deal when it first came out one day at school, when everyone just went nuts over it, banging on every available surface. Added too a nice serving of The Psychedelic Furs and other music from Pretty in Pink, and a bunch of other music I remember listening to back when I was 16 (The Cure anyone?) And I can’t believe I’ve survived with only 3 Suzanne Vega songs up to now! (Fixed). Not sure when I’ll make time to listen to it all, because audiobooks really are my thing lately, but I’ll make time for it here and there; Alphaville’s Forever Young and A Flock of Seagulls’s I Ran (So Far Away) while I was walking in the sun with Coco happily running around in the park yesterday really made my day.

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Howlin’ at the Moon

0061791105.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Mysterious Howling
by Maryrose Wood ★★★★⅓
Edition: Balzer Bray (2011), Paperback, 288 pages
Original publication date: 2010

Now there was a good bit of fun! I’m not a frequent reader of YA novels, but I do enjoy them once in a while, and this one turned out to be a real treat. Fifteen year-old Penelope Lumley, just graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females sometime in the mid 19th century, is on her way to her first job interview as a potential governess. The employers had asked for someone who gets along with animals, and as it happens she is a great animal lover and is very much looking forward to finding out what sort of creatures she will find at her potential employers’. When she arrives at Ashton place with some trepidation, not being sure whether she will be able to call this place her home or be sent away, she is greeted with mysterious howling sounds, which everyone in the estate seems to be at pains not to hear. But inevitably, she is hired and comes face to face with her charges; three young siblings, two boys and a small girl, who have grown up wild in the local woods, seemingly having been raised by wolves. Her mandate of teaching them French and Latin and Geography and Mathematics, will also have to include teaching them first to start talking like human beings and (for the boys) how to properly put a pair of pants on. The children are very attached to her and she’s delighted with their progress, though of course another big challenge is soon thrown her way; she must groom them to behave irreproachably and in very short order, to be the main attraction at a grand Christmas ball to which high dignitaries and the crème de la crème of society will be invited, and this when the children are still barely able to contain themselves from howling at the least provocation. Elements of Jane Eyre come into play when some of the mysterious howlings seemingly turn out to originate from a hidden portion of the attic. But the secret of this strange mystery will only be revealed in a further instalment (this being the first book of 4 so far in the The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series). Just as well, as I will happily continue to follow the adventures of Miss Lumley and the Incorrigibles. I should add these books are illustrated with covers and delightful b&w drawings by Canadian writer and illustrator (and 2013 Caldecott Medal winner) Jon Klassen.

Happy New Zzzzz…

IMG_5506 (2)Coco and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy National Sleep Day and also a Happy, Peaceful and Satisfying New Year!

Simple Pleasures

Well, goodness knows I often whine and moan about the things that bother me, so I thought I should report that I’ve had a wonderful day today. The weather was warm, but not too, so that when I got home after Coco’s early evening walk I was inspired to clean the two windows looking out onto my back balcony, a task which was beyond overdue. It took at least a couple of hours, but what made this chore fun was listening to Any Human Heart by William Boyd. I was about two-thirds of the way through the novel, and up until today I’d found it good, but no more; was actually quite indifferent to it in fact, but today the last part became really interesting to me. Goodness knows I usually put off chores until well after they should decently be done, but when armed with a really good audiobook, they become wonderful excuses to do some great reading (of course, now that I’ve mentioned the book, I’ll have to come back and post my review here when I get around to writing it). After all that work; climbing up and down a ladder and going back and forth indoors to outdoors to make the glass perfectly streak-free; seeing the beautiful view outside through the suddenly clear openings, with the giant tree next door filling the alley with a profusion of greenery, bits of blue and pink dusky skies peeking through, was just lovely. And then passing by my bedroom with my beautiful new bedding (went to Ikea and replaced very tatty old duvet cover with a lovely new design) on which Coco was peacefully having a snooze, while preparing a quick dinner of vegetarian chilli (bought ready-made from the health food store) and rice; because it was actually possible to turn on the stove-top without dying of heatstroke… All in all, it was a very simple, but highly satisfying day.

Now that I’ve got the windows taken care of and will be finishing this audiobook tonight, I’ll have to find an equally engrossing one to encourage me to finally take on cleaning my barbecue. Another boring task offering great listening potential that is sure to reap plenty of rewards over the next couple of months.

On Tortured Souls (a drawing)

Be grateful for the creative, feeling, hurting, yearning, tortured soul. That’s a soul of substance. ~ Jonas

Drawing detail: A Soul of Substance, 2011 by Smiler

Bookish Gals Seek More Books

Yesterday, I had my second luncheon get-together with the Montreal Book Bloggers, which was good fun. We were a small group, with maybe only ten of us in attendance, but of course we shared plenty of book talk, and most of us walked away with a bunch of ‘new to us’ books, since one of the big features of these get-togethers is to trade books among ourselves. Amanda from Tales and Treats (in the red top) listed loads of literary fiction, with many titles already on my wishlist, so I greedily reserved everything I thought might appeal to me. We got together in the same restaurant as last time, i.e. in downtown Montreal right next to Indigo book store. After lunch, many of us went over to have a look at what’s new and hot, and take advantage of their sales, though Avis (from She Reads and Reads, on my left) and I got stalled with the new titles on the ground floor and lost the others. Afterward, she and I crossed the street over to Kiehl’s so that I could pick up a free lip balm they had on promotion along with a bunch of free samples. I’m on their email list and they often have give-aways to attract clients into their stores, though there is never any pressure to buy. The staff is genuinely friendly and I always end up conversing with them. When Ashley, the young woman helping me found out we were part of a book club, she asked for some recommendations. Right off the top of my head I suggested The Night Circus and The Paris Wife as two easy and fun ‘sure bets’ and she in turn ended up giving us a bunch of great recommendations too. On LibraryThing, where we’re constantly picking up book recommendations, we have a term which is ‘getting hit by a book bullet’ when a title appeals to us and we’re prompted to add it to the wishlist or purchase it right away. Anyway, I got hit with a few of those, because of course, as every avid reader knows, one can never have too many books…

Here is my loot:

From Amanda
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver – I’ve heard great things about this novel, which takes us to Mexico in the world of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin – this Southern murder mystery got so much positive feedback on LT that I must discover it for myself
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – a literary thriller? Count me in!
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis – Canadian Politics, set in Ottawa? Big yawn. But it’s supposed to be funny and won Canada Reads this year, so there must be something to it.
Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson – takes us through one hundred years of Scandinavian history
Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton – A satire of the Jazz Age by one of the greatest American authors of the 20th century—couldn’t resist.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman – am very intrigued about this one, although (because?) it got mixed reviews and nobody seems to agree on whether it’s brilliant or bunk.
The Bastard of Istanbul Elif Şafak – I had The Flea Palace on my wishlist, but may as well start out with the more popular of the two
American Pastoral by Philip Roth – Many seem to very much dislike Roth… only one way to find out how I feel about him. It’s a Pulitzer prize winner (1998), for what it’s worth.
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler – truth is, I got this one purely because it won the Pulitzer prize (1989) and is on the Guardian 1000 list.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warran – yeah sure, there’s the Pulitzer prize again (1947), but more importantly, it’s on Esquire’s 75 Books Every Man Should Read list!
The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri – an intriguing story about an elderly man called Vishnu who revisits his life in his dying moments while he slowly slips into an alcoholic coma. Was on the Booker Prize long list Longlist in 2001.
From Avis
The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock – A teenage girl on the channel island of Guernsey may or may not have killed her best friend. An advance reader copy to which an LT friend of mine gave it a glowing review.

From Cat (from Beyond Books)
Goliath by Scott Westerfeld – Book 3 in the popular Leviathan young adult trilogy. Never mind that I haven’t read the first book Leviathan yet, but I’ll get there soon enough!

From Indigo
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston – Avis found this one. A novel told in scrapbook form with stunning vintage 50s visuals. May or may not work, so if I don’t get into it in the first few pages, I’ll either return it or gift it. It got a very high appreciation score by readers on LibraryThing.

Book Suggestions from Ashley at Kiehl’s
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – set in 50s Paris, a young man at grips with his homosexuality
Italian Shoes – I think she meant the Henning Mankell novel, but it more likely to be the novel by Frank Paci.
Women, Food and God and Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth – “I don’t like self-help books, but Geneen Roth is really different” she said.

I’ve got a huge amount of reviews I wrote for LT which I’ve been meaning to post here. The only problem is I don’t know where to start! Suggestions?