Friday, November 17, 2017

How ASL Changed My Life, Part 2

Today, after three posts expounding on the benefits of reading, I’m back to recommending books that have meant a lot to me, and books you may enjoy. I begin with Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Leah Hager Cohen.

If you wish to learn why I am so interested in all things ASL, I would refer you to my earlier blog post - How ASL Changed my Life. I guess today’s post could be called Part 2 of my relationship with ASL, a language which I am trying my darnedest to learn.

Train Go Sorry is an ASL idiom which roughly means - “You Missed the boat,” and recognizes the struggles that the deaf community has had in maintaining their culture and thriving in a largely hearing world.

Even though Train Go Sorry is more than twenty years old, it is a classic on deaf culture, and all of the deaf tutors and teachers and interpreters I know, recommend it and have it on their shelves.

This beautifully written book which is part memoir, part history, part story and part call-to-arms, drew me in right from the start. The author who can hear, grew up in the Lexington School for the Deaf in NYC. Her grandfather was deaf, Her childhood friends were deaf, and her father was the school’s superintendent.

Here’s the way the book begins:

That our family’s home was a school for the deaf did not seem in any way extraordinary to Reba, Andy and me. Lexington School for the Deaf was simply where we came from. Our apartment was on the third floor of the southern wing of the building, above the nursery school and adjacent to the boys’ dormitory. The walls and doors, incidental separations between our living space and the rest of the building, were routinely disregarded. We children often played down the hall with the kids from the dorm. It wasn’t until Reba, my older sister, proved at age six to be a sleepwalker—discovered one night riding the elevator in her pajamas‚ that our parents even thought to install a proper lock on the front door.

Twenty years ago, when this book was released, the deaf community was on the cusp of change. Up until then, being deaf was considered being “hearing impaired,” a label the deaf community fought against. (And still fight against.) Their teachers were all hearing, and routinely taught English and lip reading, and made the children speak and use their voices. Sometimes signing was even forbidden and Cohen recounts that in those early days, children who signed had their hands struck with rulers, or tied behind their backs. 

In her beautiful book, Cohen recounts the personal stories of deaf students one at a time, one per chapter. I fell in love with the students she wrote about. I met James and Sofia and Oscar. I read about meetings where the students demanded that at least one person on the school's board be deaf. I read about the time they set up the chairs so that they all could see the interpreter. The staff, all hearing, had not even thought of that. There was so much that I learned. 

To give you a bit more of an understanding of the time, this is from Wikipedia:

In 1994, Lexington School for the deaf was subject to a community protest following the appointment of a hearing chairman of the board without what protesters felt was adequate representation of the deaf community in the selection process. Following picket lines and other protest measures, Phil Bravin was placed in the position; Bravin had become the first deaf chair of the Gallaudet University Board following a similar protest in 1988.

If you are interested in this piece of our history, I highly recommend Train Go Sorry.

Next Time: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Friday, November 3, 2017

We Need to Read Fiction Now More Than Ever

You’ve met them, I’ve met them, people who simply don’t read novels. They “don’t have time,” they say. Or, “Reading fiction is a waste of time," or “There are enough real problems in the world without having to concentrate something that’s not true.”

This kind of thinking shows a real misunderstanding of what fiction is and even who we are as human beings. It is precisely because there are so many problems in the real world that we need fiction now more than ever.

Imagine, if you will, a world without fiction, a world with no stories. The vast shelves of novels in bookstores and libraries would sit there  empty. When you sat down to read your child a book at bedtime, it would be a science book, or a self-help book about why we shouldn’t bully, or how to get better grades, for example. The only movies we would watch would be documentaries or science movies, and maybe the odd cooking or reality show.

There would be no Dr. Seuss, no Harry Potter, no Narnia, no Handmaid’s Tale, no IT, no Hercule Poirot, no James Bond. In other words, if we rid our world of fiction, we would rid ourselves of one of the very thing that makes us human—our love of story.

What makes us who we are is our ability to create and make things beautiful. We have the ability to make beauty out of ashes. Art out of nothing. We do that through art and design and story—made-up fiction stories.

If you google “the importance of reading fiction,” you will be rewarded with many, many links. 
Reading fiction is not a waste of time. It’s never a waste of time. It can turn us into healthier and better people according to many scientific studies.

If you are interested in scientific studies about what fiction reading does to the brain, here are a few important links to click on:

 - Why You Should Read Every Day

 - The Benefits of Reading Fiction 

 - The Benefits of Reading Novels 

Here are several of the points I gleaned:

• I was surprised to learn that reading fiction reduces stress. I had to read this several times. Really? But, apparently sitting back in your easy chair with a good novel reduces stress more than even going outside for a walk.

• Fiction gives us an understanding of others.

CS Lewis who wrote prolifically on the subject of creativity and fiction said:

We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows…

And boy, don’t we need this today! As I write this seven people have died in NYC in a Halloween terrorist attack. This comes on the heels of the recent terrorist attack in Las Vegas in which 58 people died, and many more are still in hospital, which comes on the heels of 500 in a bomb attack in Somali. It goes on and on.

So, yes, “seeing through other eyes” would be of great benefit! One way of doing that is through fiction. Currently I’m reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. Through that novel I am gaining a new understanding of what it’s like to be an illegal immigrant from Limbe, Cameroon in the city of New York during the fall of the stock market in 2009. Walking in another's shoes—even through the pages of a novel—can turn us into more understanding people.

• Reading novels before bed improves sleep. Sleep is important to me. It’s something I crave, and yet so often it eludes me. Some studies say that immersing yourself in a bit of fiction for 15 minutes before you nod off can help. 

• It improves memory. Several studies suggest that novel reading has been proved to decline Alzeimers and memory problems. Novel readers have less mental decline as they age.

• It improves our understanding of difficult concepts—scientific and otherwise. Yes, fiction does this. Ten non-fiction books on the subject of hell, have not had the impression on me as CS Lewis’s short novel, The Great Divorce has had. It caused me to rethink just about everything I ever thought or believed or was taught about the subject of hell. It sent me on a faith journey that I still am on to this day.

What about television?

I need to mention here that I’m talking about reading novels and not “watching” novels on TV. No, I’m not one of those avid anti-TV watchers. I enjoy Netflix binging with the best of them, but I also know in my heart that better things happen to me when I’m reading a novel as opposed to watching one on television. It looks like scientific studies bear me out.

Here’s a fascinating link on the difference. It turns out that 
long hours in front of the television can decrease verbal IQ whereas reading a novel can increase brain activity and function. in other words, watching television is a passive activity and reading novels is an active activity. (Maybe it even burns more calories. Someone should do a study on that!)

And about fiction not being the truth? 

I’ve learned in my 25 years as a fiction author that fiction often has to be more truthful than nonfiction. 

One example: when I wrote Sadie’s Song, about a woman who was physically and emotionally abused by her up-standing, church-going Christian husband, my editors wanted the two to work out their differences, get counselling and get together at the end in a happily ever after. I said no. Yes, that sometimes happens. But more often than not, wives leave, and must leave, and should leave. I needed to write that story, the real story. I needed to make it truthful.

Should you read just any old novel?

No. Not really. Not unless you want to be bored out of your head. Yes, there are some pretty crappy novels out there. Picking up a novel that is boring or not well-written, or doesn't capture you from beginning to end, isn't going to provide all of those benefits. More than two years ago 
I started this blog because I was sick of crappy books. I wanted to make a list of all the good books I could recommend. Scroll back through more than two years of book recommends here to find a novel you might enjoy. And, how to tell if a novel is going to do you any good? It's the one you can't put down. If the novel isn't "grabbing" you after three chapters, put it down.

Author Densi Donaghue in The Practice of Reading writes:

The purpose of reading literature is to exercise or incite ones imagination: specifically one’s ability to imagine being different.

Oh man, would that we could have a day where everyone in the entire world would stay home from work and read a novel. 

Next time: a look at deaf culture in Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen

Friday, October 6, 2017

We Need to Read Even More Now

Today I continue my thoughts on reading and how today, in light of every sad and scary and awful thing going on in the world, we need to be reading more, not less. We need to be reading critically and thoughtfully. We need to be reading widely. We need to read for escape and we need to read for knowledge. We need to read to keep our minds sharp and focused. We need to read so we can decipher the truth from the lies (without anyone calling certain things ‘fake news’ and thus putting a kind of censorship on the written word.) If we’re smart, critical thinkers we can figure out “fake news” for ourselves. We need this today, even more.

I am devoting today’s column to the importance of nonfiction in our daily reading. Nonfiction is a broad category which includes everything from magazines and news articles, to books about travel, politics, memoirs, biography, self-help, history, cooking, gardening and on and on the category goes. It includes the large majority of magazines (There are very few fiction magazines these days.) and newspapers (I can only think of a few fiction newspapers.).

A daily dose of nonfiction improves critical thinking, increases your vocabulary, improves your focus, makes you smarter and some studies have even shown it can stave off Alzheimers.

If you study this linked article I’m sure, like me, you will set aside some time to read every day. It will be as important to you as getting in your physical exercise. (Or maybe you could combine the two, by listening to an audio book while you get in that constitutional.)

If you want actual proof - here’s a peer-reviewed scientific study. 

Back in 1990, I was the International Literacy Year coordinator for the province of Alberta. The motto we adopted and printed on coffee mugs and tee-shirts and bookmarks and bags was “We Need to Read.” 
The photo at the lower right is a large poster of the International Literacy Year stamp which I was privileged to receive from Canada Post, who was a major sponsor that year. (Remember when people used to write letters?) 

 Yes, We Need to Read, but twenty-seven years later, I might change it to, “We Need to Read Even More Now.”

Why now? Well, social media is making it so that we can streamline our feeds to only include our own narrow political views. This is called Confirmation Bias and it is very real and it is crippling us and contributing to what divides us.

This didn’t use to exist when we all got our basically non-partisan news from the same two or three television or radio stations at the same time every day. I was a journalist back in the 1980s and my editor was very strict about getting  “both sides” of the story. If I didn’t, if I couldn’t get the other side of the story, he wouldn’t run it. It was as simple as that.

I fear those days are long gone. I was casually looking through a friend’s Facebook postings where she had expressed an opinion about President Trump. The arguments went on and on, maybe 40 comments of people chiming in until finally someone simply wrote, “You’re an idiot.”

Really? That’s what we’ve come to? Calling people idiots and morons who happen to disagree with us?

Today with confirmation bias all around us, it becomes ever more important to read widely. When someone tells you not to read something, calling it “fake news,” that is when you need to challenge that statement with your own critical reading of the issue. Figure out these things for yourself. In the age of Google and Youtube, it’s really not that hard.

As most of you who know me know, I lean a certain way politically, and yet, I try to read smart articles from both sides of the spectrum. I read the articles in Slate and listen to their many podcasts, as well as NPR. Both of these might lean a bit to the left. I listen to CBC on a pretty regular basis (even though here in Canada I don’t find that partisan divide as heated as it is in the US). I try to balance that with news from The Nation, The National Post and I’m a regular listener to The Daily Standard which is a conservative podcast from The Weekly Standard.

I also need to mention The Politics Guys, one of my favorite "both sides" podcasts. Everyone should try to emulate these guys, two long time friends on opposite sides of the political spectrum discuss the news in detail, without resorting to the “You’re a moron” type of discourse.

Short articles are one thing, but longer nonfiction can be quite informative and interesting. Bookmark these sites: Longform and Longreads.

I have both these on my regular reading rotation and have gotten in-depth looks at the latest in nutrition, a question and answer with Stephen King, and the newest science on brain concussions and the NFL.

I mentioned my love for my Kobo eReader in my last column, and especially my new Kobo Aura H20. I can add these articles to my Kobo with an app called Pocket.  Again, I love that I’m not trying to read on my phone. And if you have children? 
Here’s an article on the importance of reading nonfiction to them. 

Don't forget the many nonfiction books out there. Here’s a list of the nonfiction books I am currently reading and which will be reviewed here in the coming months: The Day the Revolution Began by NT Wright, Train Go Sorry by Leah Hager Cohen and Does Jesus Really Love me? By Jeff Chu.

What nonfiction are you reading?

NEXT TIME: Part three - The importance of daily—and I do mean daily—fiction reading (Yes, in case you’re wondering. I have saved the best for last)

Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Read More in an Age of Technology: Part One

Reading less these days? 

The impetus for this blog comes from a recent post by author Philip Yancey, that went pretty much much viral. This once prolifically reading author has bookshelves that are now languishing as he finds his brain becoming re-wired by technology. The comments are telling, too, as many share their own stories and most agree. 

Smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, games, Pinterest and iPads are demanding our attention. Walk through any mall and three-quarters of the shoppers will be staring down at phones. And okay, I'm not anti-technology. I’m just as guilty. I mean I even sleep with my iPhone right beside me. (I know I know. Shoot me now!) But when insomnia hits, what better way to fall asleep than to listen to some droning book being read to me, or some podcast, or some soothing music? (I’m even thinking of getting a pair of those sleeping type headphones. (Okay, now you can really shoot me.)

But, as I was reading Yancey’s post it came to me that probably a lot of people are finding that their reading is diminishing these days. How can we get it back? How can we become absorbed in a novel once again? There should be a Fitbit for reading, I'm thinking, something that will keep track of how many pages we have read that day, and remind us when our reading is falling off.

To counteract this - here are a few of my own random thoughts and ideas:

1. You can’t read a book on a phone or an iPad or a tablet. Please bear with me one this one, don’t put your hands over your eyes just yet. To read a novel, I think you need a real book or a dedicated eReader. 

Here’s my story: I had one of the original Kobo eReaders. It was light. I could adjust the font to suit my old eyes, and I didn’t have that weird page turning balance thing that I have when I'm lying on my side in bed and trying to read a hard-back book. I loved it, but then after seven years the battery didn’t hold a charge. But surely I didn’t need another one, right? I have one of those big-screen iPhones. I’ll just use it. It’s got a reading app, right?

Well, I couldn’t. First of all, the screen was too bright. Even after dimming the light, it was too shiny. I couldn’t read it out in the sunshine, and what’s the point of a book that you can’t read on the beach?

But, the main thing was that I was distracted by it. I would be reading along and—oh wait! A new Facebook message! Oh wait! I got a new email! Oh wait! A text message just came in! So, I went in turned off all of those notifications. Now, I’ll just settle back and read. And yet in the back of my mind there was this little ping—Hey, maybe I should check Instagram. See if there are any new pics of the grandkids. It won’t take two seconds. Or, I’ll just zip over here and play a quick game of solitaire before I get into chapter four.

Nope, maybe it works for you, but the iPhone simply didn’t work for me as a reading device.

So, I bought another dedicated eReader, and I love, love my new Kobo Aura H2O.

I know that there are also Kindles that compare.

All I can do is read on it. It looks like a book, and it's gently front lit, so, I can read it in bed at night. I can take it out in the sunshine. It's completely waterproof so I can even read it out on the water. Or in the rain, if I wanted to.

Studies say these e-ink screens are better for the brain at night than shiny, backlit screens.

If your reading has fallen off, put away the phone and the brightly lit tablet and get either a real book, or invest in an eReader. They’re not very expensive.

2. Blame the book, not yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I have opened up a novel to read, even a beloved mystery novel, and then after about four pages my mind is wandering. After chapter two I’m blaming myself—it must be happening—I’m getting too old—I can’t concentrate—I can’t read books anymore—There's something wrong with my brain.

No. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the book.

That's why I began this blog. Maybe it was a survival thing. I wanted to prove that there are still books out there which are unputdownable. If you find your mind wandering, keep looking. Feel free to scroll back and use this blog as a guide. I have more than two and a half years worth of books that my mind didn't wander inside of.

3. Join a book club. Not only is this fun, but you will end up reading completely out of your comfort zone. It might just be wonderful. Left to my own devices I would end up with nothing but mystery fiction on my Kobo. My book club expands me. I’m devouring and discussing books I never would have chosen. 

If you don’t know where to find a club, go and ask at your local library. If they don’t have one, give them your name and offer to start one. Another place to look is your local independent bookstore. Many have bookclubs. Also, you might want to try and do a search for “bookclubs.”

4. Talk about books with your friends. I know, you might get some strange looks when the first thing you say when you sit down for coffee is, “Read any good books lately?” But you might come away with some good and interesting suggestions. And a reading partner.

5. Write book reviews. Recommend a good book on your Facebook page. Do a search for book review blogs. Many are joint efforts and are always wanting new book reviewers. (I know. I've been asked.) This blog of mine, this labor of love, has forced me to read, even when I wanted to zip over and play solitaire.

6. Devote an hour a day to reading. Really? Is that too much? You’ll go for a walk for an hour, or spend an hour at the gym, or watch TV for an hour. Make it a priority to read every single day. Okay, half an hour. But schedule it in.

7. I mentioned how cool it would be to have a Fitbit for reading, well, there sort of is one. It’s called the Goodreads reading challenge. I do this every year. Here is my own link. 

When 2017 began I decided that I would read 30 books this year. In past years I’ve aimed for 24. Because I easily managed that, I decided that this year I would up it to 30. Not sure I'm going to make it. While you’re at it, have a look around Goodreads which is like a Facebook for readers. I find book recommendations there and often find myself scouring the book reviews for books I might like.

How do you keep reading when bright screens, click bait and five second sound bites keep tempting you? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments.  

NEXT TIME: Part two: More on reading books in an age of technology.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Can you hear the dueling banjos?

As the summer nears its end, so does my list of thriller-suspense-novel-beach-read recommendations. Today I’d like to end this summer series by recommending The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. This is one I could not put down.

The novel begins: 

Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.

And, we’re off. Four old friends; Pia, Rachel, Winifred, and Sandra get together every year for some sort of vacation or "adventure.” Most of the time their idea of "adventure” has the four of them sitting on a beach somewhere and sipping wine. Except this year. 

Pia, the definite leader in the group, has determined that they’re all going to do something different and exciting. And what's more exciting than white water rafting in Maine? Well, fine, except, the only one who really wants to go is Pia. The rest shift between not wanting to go somewhere where they have to camp outside at night, to being outright afraid of fast moving water. She allays their fears. They have a great guide, the very capable Rory. Nothing to worry about. It'll be fun. So, okay, they all give each other pep talks. How bad could it be?

Well, bad, as it turns out.

Their adventure begins on a unfortunate footing—literally—when the jeep their guide, Rory is using to take them to the raft, sinks in the mud and they are up to their knees as they attempt to push it free. He tells them that this neck of the woods is usually dry. That this has never happened before. By this time I can almost hear the dueling banjoes in the distance. That should have been a clue to turn around now. Except, they don’t. 

Good suspense is when you want to yell to the characters in the novel you are reading, "Don’t go there! Turn back now! Don't go down the basement without a flashlight! Don't go out on that river! Are you crazy?"

But, they don't turn around. The five clean up and then head out on a raft with the very hunky easy-on-the-eyes Rory as their guide. Maybe this won’t be so bad.

The author has an amazing way of describing the water, from the calm, meandering blue river, an easy to paddle and pleasant to be on, to the crazy rapids and currents and places that these four women, even with their experienced guide, are not prepared to tackle. The river is a character in this book.

No more spoilers, but there are definite parallels between this book and Deliverance. Remember that movie? Remember that book? Only this time it’s females who are on a river adventure.

As you know, if you follow my blog, a good story draws me in, believable characters make me want to read on, but if a book isn’t well-written, it’s only half a book. If the language isn't beautiful and imaginative, I'll put it down.

Here’s one example of the excellent description:

Nests of hair twined with bites of bone and tiny pinecones snarled from under the orange ski cap.

Who is that person with the bones tied in her wild hair? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

The theme of human vs nature is a common one in books, and always remains popular. Goodreads has a list of these kinds of adventure books which includes the aforementioned Deliverance by James Dickey. The list also includes The Old Man and the Sea 
and Life of Pi 

Here's the list that Goodreads has compiled. Can you think of others that are favourites of yours?

Next time: Reading less? Here are my thoughts.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Most Disorienting Read

The cat under the front porch was at it again. Scratching at the slab of wood that echoes through the hardwood floors of my bedroom. Sharpening its claws, marking its territory—relentless in the dead of night.

That is how The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda,
today’s recommended summer-reading-super-suspense-novel begins. This story, with its many facets, its many faces, was immensely satisfying. First, there are the two friends (Leah and Emmy) who move to a new town and decide to room together. Then, there is the reason Leah is here in the first place (What was that horrible thing that happened in her old job?). Then, there is the colleague who Leah is sure is harassing her. And more. There is much more which is revealed as the story unfolds slowly.

In a nutshell, Leah had to leave Boston and her career as journalist after an article she wrote goes horribly wrong. She calls on an old friend Emmy, to come be her roommate in a rural Pennsylvania town where she has secured a teaching job. She needs someone to help her get her life back from that horrendous experience, and what better person than her strange friend, Emmy?

Here is where the whole thing gets disorienting in a way that makes you stop, blink, and shake your head as you read it. A woman who looks a lot like Leah is assaulted and left for dead down by the river. Shortly after, her roommate Emmy disappears. Leah and police investigator Kyle become close, as he helps her unravel what happened. It's all pretty straightforward. Or is it?

A large part of the novel becomes a case of, who do you believe? Even Kyle has doubts. He wants to believe her, but who is this supposedly good friend Emmy? There is no record of her anywhere—in any police data base that Kyle can locate. Emmy didn’t even have a cell phone. What young woman doesn’t carry a cell phone these days?

Why was Leah forced to leave her previous employment? Why is she accusing a fellow teacher of harassing her? Is Leah the problem? What’s with her former best friend and boyfriend? Why the restraining order? All of these questions are answered very, very slowly, very deliciously as the story progresses.

The unfolding of the story is almost disorienting. It got to the point that I would have to stop, think. WHAT did I just read? What is happening? No spoilers here, but the book is a very satisfying summer read.

Also—and this is important to me—the writing is excellent. Here are a few examples:

And then Emmy came along while I was this stripped away version of a person. So was it strange that I felt her in my skin? She was there when it re-formed. She existed inside the sharper edges I erected.

And, you can almost feel this version of winter:

The chapped lips, the red noses, the dry skin around our knuckles, and the way the sweaters itch across our collarbones. How you want nothing more than to stay in. The things you do to stay warm.

I began this blog with the first lines of The Perfect Stranger, the lines after which, I knew I would enjoy this book.

If you are a reader of I Like It, you know that first lines matter to me. First lines draw me in. First chapters draw me in. Just out of curiosity and because I’m a writer myself, I Googled “How not to begin a story.” The first thing that popped up was this Writer’s Digest article.

It suggests not beginning with a dream, an alarm clock buzzing, too little dialogue, or opening with dialogue. Pretty good advice, I would say. I Googled further to read that a whole lot of literary agents and writing instructors suggest not using a prologue. Hmm. The Perfect Stranger begins with a prologue. 

As a writer, I sort of pay attention to this advice, but as a reader it flits off me like fine fine feathers in the wind. If the word “prologue” disgruntles you, just put a sticky note over the word “Prologue” and pretend it’s "Chapter One," and then proceed.

So yes, put this book high on your summer reading list.

Next time: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Invited to a Party? Beware!

Another Thursday morning, another great summer suspense recommendation. Today, the novel I am recommending is In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. I read this book in the space of a couple of days, so enthralled was I.

Here is how the story begins:

I am running.

I am running through the moonlit woods, with branches ripping at my clothes and my feet catching in the snow-bowed bracken. Brambles slash at my hands,. My breath tears in my throat, It hurts, Everything hurts.

So begins the journey of Leonora who casually accepts the invitation to a “hen party.” An old friend she hasn’t seen in years is getting married. Why is she invited? She parted company with this “friend” many years ago, and it wasn't under the greatest of circumstances. Why is she being called now? Should she leave her comfortable but solitary existence in London to go to this party way out in the countryside? But her curiosity is piqued. The party is being held in a huge, modern glass-windowed house. Who wouldn’t be intrigued?

Persuaded by a mutual friend, she packs up and they drive there together.

After that, of course, the strange things start happening.

Two days later, she wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory of the entire weekend. She can only piece together bits and pieces. The book deftly moves from past to present as Leonora puts together what happened to her.

Yes, I suppose these are pretty timeworn conventions in the psychological suspense genre—amnesia, old secrets, isolation (in this case, a deserted house in the woods), “ghosts” in the woods (whether real ghosts in the form of a horror novel, or in this case, the “ghosts” of past secrets), a storm, and of course a murder. The book is replete with quirky characters—the quirkiest is the friend who wants everything to be “perfect” and even when things are falling apart will go to to any lengths to make sure this is so.

These “conventions” are used over and over, and yet for beach reads, we never tire of them. Or, at least I never do. Bring on the amnesia and the Stephen King-like quirky characters!

Here’s a fascinating article in Psychology Today about why we enjoy reading suspense novels so much.

The author suggests that we like the intellectual challenge—the old “figuring out the mystery puzzle” but in a psychological suspense it’s more than just figuring out “whodunnit”, it’s coming up with why. It’s connecting past "ghosts" to present reality.

The article also suggests that these kinds of novels are usually so engrossing, so captivating, that “nothing else has a chance of sneaking into our minds, thus giving us a break from everyday worries.”

And with things the way they are in the world, I think we DO need this break. Agreed?

So, take the suggestions that I’ve offered over these past number of months, and enjoy your thrillers.

NEXT TIME: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stay Inside and Read This Book

As promised, I am devoting this entire summer to recommendations for  psychological suspense thrillers. The books in this genre are probably my favorite beach/back deck/cottage/couch-inside-with-the-AC-on reads. Today I am recommending Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington. Carrington is a female author from the UK. I don’t know why this is, but I am discovering that a lot of what I would call literary psychological suspense thrillers are written by UK authors. Maybe it's the climate. Maybe it's the history. Maybe it's the ghosts.

Saving Sophie begins when teenaged daughter Sophie is returned home by the police to her horrified and out-of-their-mind-with-worry parents. No matter how she is prompted and questioned, she cannot remember where she was the previous night. Nothing is coming back to her. To top it off, Sophie's best friend is missing. No one can find her. Everyone fears the worse. The community is in chaos and worry.

That is only the beginning. The book seems to be really about Sohie's mother Karen, and a past occurrence that she has kept secret and private. Is it coming back, finally, to haunt her? Or is this crime something quite new and different?

Her past secret, kept even from her husband, has led to her present struggles with agoraphobia. Tremendously fearful, Karen doesn’t ever leave her house. I have never known anyone with this mental health issue, but know that it exists. But I do know that any kind of anxiety can leave a person helpless and afraid to move. 

The 'stay inside' part of this recommendation? That's in deference to Karen who won't leave her house.

And so Karen stays home, even when it’s the daughter of Karen’s closest friend who is missing. Karen will not leave the house to go over there to comfort her. There were times when I wanted to physically push her out of the house and call her a selfish slob! But there are deeper issues, and there were far deeper issues in the book. 

Here is an interesting link on agoraphobia.

Every character in this book struggles with their own demons, including the officers set about the solve the case. When you write reviews which refuse to spoil the books, sometimes the reviews can be exceedingly short. But, I won't spoil this book, I can't, but trust me when I say I raced to the ending of this one, and it didn't disappoint.

I give this book a full 4.5 stars. It has enough for me to recommend it here as a fun beach read, and one that will keep you glued to  it for the duration.

Next time: In a Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Classical piano, Genius IQs and Murder

As promised, I plan to review an unputdownable thriller every two weeks this summer, and so I begin with a book that absolutely grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan is perfect for summer back deck reading.

This novel introduces the reader to the world of precocious musician children. 

We meet genius IQ Zoe Maisey a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy. Three years prior to the book’s beginning she was involved in a traffic accident in which three friends died. Was she responsible? How? Was she sentenced unfairly? That fact is made known little by little as the book progresses.

When she "did her time" as a juvenile offender, she and her mother Maria moved to a new town with changed names to begin their “Second Chance Life.” Her mother’s new husband Chris whose son Lucas is also a musical prodigy know nothing of her past life. And they won’t, too. Neither she nor Maria plan to tell them. All seems well, except for one thing. 

Her music.

It’s unmistakeable and unique and of course people from her “old life” would recognize it in an instant. Which is exactly what happens.

The book, the entire book, revolves around the incidents which occur in one terrible, awful, heart-rending 24 hour period following a concert where her mother Maria is murdered.

The reader goes from loving Zoe with an intense understanding, to wondering if she is really all that changed. The reader is introduced to all of the members of this family—Maria and Chris, Zoe and Lucas their children, Grace, the new baby, Sam, Zoe’s first solicitor and Maria’s sister Tessa.

It’s hard to review a novel like this without giving spoilers, so none here, but what kept me glued to this book was the way the author goes into the lives of each of the characters in turn revealing new horrors.

There are three things I demand in the thrillers that I read:

1. Being well-written. This one is.

Here is how the book begins:
Before the concert begins, I stand inside the entrain to the church and look down the nave, Shadows lurk in the ceiling vaults even though the light outside hasn’t dimmed yet, and behind me the large wooded doors have been pulled shut.

In front of me, the last few members of the audience have just settled into their places. Almost every seat is filled. The sound of their talk is a medium pitched rumble.

I shudder.

2. Things revealed slowly, but steadily with a “hook” at every chapter end.

3. A darn good story. And this one is.

If you're interested in this genre, here's a wonderful article in Writer's Digest.

For the next summer thriller review: Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bunches of Thrillers for the Summer!

As the summer begins here in Canada (finally, right?), I’ve decided to devote this blog to recommending thrillers. Whether you’re at the beach, on your back deck, on a boat, or even in a comfy couch in your living room (and it’s raining outside), summer vacation is a time to read.

A few weeks ago I read with interest this article in the New York Times on the best summer thriller reads for 2017. I decided to take a page from their book, and come up with my own list of summer thrillers that you simply MUST read. the same. Here’s the NY Times article, if you want to read some of their recommendations.

My favorite get-comfy-on-the-couch reading is a genre called literary thriller. Although closely related to, it differs somewhat from the genre of “mystery.” Mysteries involve a crime (which often occurs before the book begins), and a crime solver which can be a police officer, private detective or amateur crime solver (librarian, etc.).

Thrillers are about crime as well, but often the crime hasn’t occurred yet. It is only ominously threatening on the horizon, or overhead, or it's something in the past. There isn’t necessarily a crime solver, just someone (often a woman in the books I’m reading) in danger. And often she, alone, has to figure out what is happening to her or to her family. Others clearly, don’t see the danger.

Although I do have a few true “mysteries” in the following list, (X by Sue Grafton and Breeding Ground by my friend Sally Wright,) most of the following recommendations are in the thriller category.

Whether you read by print, on a Kindle or my favorite—my waterproof and dustproof (read sand) Kobo Aura H20, which is loaded with books to read. 

Here are a few wonderful thrillers that I’ve already reviewed here on I Like It that you can add to your beach reading satchel.  

Safe with Me by K.L. Slater

Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

 Here are a few books I’m currently reading (and yes, ah, I do read more than one book at a time!) and will be reviewing here in the coming weeks:

Breeding Ground by Sally Wright—if you like horses, WW11 and intrigue, you will love this mystery set in 1962 in the southern US

In the Woods by Tana French. A new murder that detective Ryan must solve bears too much resemblance to an older, unsolved crime from his childhood.

In no particular order, here are the books on my Kobo just waiting to be read this summer:

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda - a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

After the Lie by Kerry Fischer - Your past will devastate your family. But your lies could destroy them.

Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah  - She's a wife. She's a mother. She isn't who you think she is.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik - What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller - Ingrid writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears

Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell - a pulse-pounding thriller about a man who is haunted by a face from his past.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner - a page-turning literary mystery that brings to life the complex and wholly relatable Manon Bradshaw, a strong-willed detective assigned to a high-risk missing persons case.

Here’s another list put out by Goodreads. 

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own thriller/mysteries here. Night Watch and The Bitter End are my newest babies.

Well, all of these lists should get you going on some great summer reading!

At the end of the NY Times article there is a question- what are your favorite thrillers for the beach?

So, that is my question for you - What are some of your favorite thriller authors and summer reads?

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Letting Go

Today on my blog, I’m recommending The House We Grew Up In, a compelling and wonderful novel by Lisa Jewell

This was a choice for the bookclub I belong to (And may I take a moment out to recommend that you join a bookclub. If you don’t know of any that meet, ask at your public library. They are veritable fonts 
of information on all things book, and bookclubs. Do it. You’ll thank me later.), and all of us in our small group agreed—this one was a winner.

The House We Grew Up In revolves around the lives of Lorelei Bird and her family—her husband Colin and their four children—Megan, Bethan, Rory and Rhys and neighbor Vicki. Lorelei is a hoarder, you know, one of those persons who lets their possessions pile up in boxes around them. It wasn’t always this way with her. At one time she was a a whimsical mother who tacked up all her children’s school papers on the wall. She was the sort of mother any child would want—cooking, baking, having family parties, doing cartwheels in the backyard, and taking care that the annual Easter egg hunts in the backyard went on without a hitch. It is here we get the first inkling of her disorder, when she must save the colorful foils from the chocolates, because they are so pretty.

When one of her her sons dies by suicide, the entire family goes into a downward spiral. Each family member deals with the death in a different way, including his mother who just begins adding and adding and adding to her collections.

As the book plunges toward its horrific ending, we discover why Lorelei turned from being a happy, loving—although eccentric—mother, to one who would not throw anything out, and who would eventually drown and starve in all her stuff.

I know some of you are reality TV fans, and a program like Hoarders is sometimes interesting to watch. What is amazing to me about the few TV hoarding TV shows I’ve watched is the unbelievable link the hoarders feel to their stuff, the weeping when it is suggested that a broken DVD be thrown out. People with hoarding disorders sometimes choose their junk over their families. Their children will walk right out of the door and yet they choose to remain with their boxes.

The disclaimer at the beginning of the particular TV show I've linked to says that “hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.”

I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about hoarding, but I found once I picked up this book, I could not put it down. It was one of those books that got propped up on the kitchen counter while I cooked and washed dishes and got carried with me in my purse everywhere I went.

Good writing and a well-put-together sentence is all important to me, and the writing in this book sparkled.

Here's an example. At one point in the book Lorelei says, 

Look at that sky, just look at it. The blueness of it. Makes me want to snatch out handfuls of it, and put it in my pockets.

Maybe that is the essence of hoarding—when a person loses the ability to simply sit and admire things, but instead needs to own them, and store them within your own walls and keeping.

Here’s another description on hoarding from the novel:

Everything was halfway to being where it needed to be, everything was a work in progress, with no systems, no logic, no sense of organizations about any of it.

And, here is how her neighbor Wendy describes Lorelei to her granddaughter:

You see, your nana is a very special lady—she is really quite magical you know—and when she looks at the world she sees it in a very special way, like it’s a party bag or a toy shop, and she likes to keep bits of it. And she feels sad when she throws things away.

Even if those hoarding TV shows don’t appeal to you, (they don’t to me, especially) I think you will enjoy this book.

I will be reading more of Lisa Jewell, and in fact, have another of her books I Found You just downloaded onto my Kobo.

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

#Thatsharassment A series of Sexual Harassment videos that need to be talked about

Today I'm going to do my best to tackle a hard subject, a most difficult one. But when the president of the most influential country in the western world brags about sexually assaulting women, maybe it’s time we had this conversation.

I am talking about sexual harassment and recommending that you watch six very short videos, part of a new campaign called #thatsharassment. 

Click here. Watch all six. 

I’ll wait. 

After I read this Parents Magazine article about these videos and watched them in their entirety, I felt I had to tell you about them. 

Film director Sigal Avin and actor David Schwimmer of Friends fame have produced these videos portraying what sexual harassment looks like in 2017. 

I had seen only the first half of the very first video, and already there were spiders under my skin. It was like I had crawled into the skin of that young women. Watching all of them, one right after the other, I needed a shower. It was like had I been thrust into each and every situation, and could remember what it felt like. Reading further into the article I was not surprised to learn that most women (not “some” women, or “a few” women, but “most” women) can identify.

I am an older woman now, and have gracefully and gratefully passed into the stage of “invisibility” mentioned by Margaret Trudeau in the book I recommended in my last blog post. (The Time of Your Life). There is a certain freedom in that. I no longer have to totally be on my guard.

But before we go on, let’s have a look at the videos in the order they are presented in the article.

In Video #1, it’s a young woman’s first day on the job at a bar. Her male co-worker is showing her all about how the men will come onto her—in graphic detail.

Video #2 has a woman who is some kind of a wardrobe or costume person for a famous movie star. She is naturally star-struck that day, and trying to do her best, until he reveals all to her.

In Video #3 we move to an office where a married boss comes on to a young, new female admin assistant.

Video #4  has a doctor “examining” a female patient.

In Video #5,  a young woman (Oh, she looks SO young) involved in a photoshoot of some kind, is asked to do some things she feels very uncomfortable with. In my opinion, this is the scariest one, because at the end, it cuts away to all of the people watching, all complicit in his instructions.

A woman journalist is interviewing a famous politician in Video #6. He asks her to turn off the tape, and then he tries to come on to her. But, she needs that interview. She needs that article.

I think what struck me about all of these were the subtleness of the suggestions. These were not lewd, greasy, horrid men, these appeared to be sort of nice guys. If it ended up being a “he-said she-said" in court they would probably win. And the women, all who want to keep their jobs, know this.

First there is the nervous laugh—women have that "nervous laugh" down pat, don't they? These same women probably went home thinking, “Did that really happen? No. Maybe it didn't." And then imperceptibly shoving the blame onto themselves.

In most of these videos it’s powerful men, and the women who work for them who “want to keep their jobs and so they must go along.” 

Sadly, in recent days we’ve seen this. The most recent fallout goes to Bill O'Reilly one of Fox News greatest assets. He lost his job after a number of women came forward to accuse him of doing just this.

And before him, Roger Ailes also of Fox News. And before him Bill Cosby.

But lest you think it's just a Fox News thing, or an American thing, and that we are who live in Canada are somehow immuned to this, may I remind you of Jian Ghomeshi, who was once the darling boy of CBC. As well, there have been long and ongoing investigations into sexual harassment in Canada’s military and RCMP

Yes, our military who are admired all over the world, as well as our RCMP.

"Is it okay?" the office boss in Video #3 continually asks. “It is okay? No hard feelings? We're okay? We're good?"

Nervous laugh. “It’s okay.”

“You sure it’s okay.” Sad voice. Contrite voice.

“It’s okay.”

"You sure?"

"It's okay."

No. It's not okay. 

I applaud Sigal Avin and David Schwimmer for tackling this project, and I would hope that these videos are shown in HR programs throughout the country. 

(Interesting sidebar: The man who brags about sexually assaulting women, complete with lewd x-rated language, gets elected president. The man he was talking to from Access Hollywood, gets fired. What's wrong with this picture?)

My one complaint with the videos? They are not Closed Captioned. They need to be.

Next Time: A look at hoarding, in a compelling new novel, The House We Grew Up In.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Rocking Chair Sitters Here

Today I am recommending Margaret Trudeau’s self-help/memoir The Time of Your Life: Choosing a Vibrant, Joyful Future. If her name sounds familiar to my readers south of the border, she is the mother of our current prime minister here in Canada and wife of a former prime minister.

Hand on my heart, I admit it—I am a Margaret Trudeau fan-girl. Forty-five years ago when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, I married a Canadian and moved to this wonderful country. (I became a citizen ten years later). The country was vast and beautiful and unknowable, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister and his wife was the charming, spunky, oh so pretty and often misunderstood Margaret.

Because I was determined to be a well-rounded Canadian, I read all the novels of Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood and page by colorful page through the history books of Pierre Berton. (I also began to wonder if your name had to be either Margaret or Pierre to live in this country.) I was learning to love my new adopted country.

In 1976 on Haida Gwaii (known when I lived there as the Queen Charlotte Islands), I had the privilege of meeting Margaret Trudeau. My husband was a school teacher in Queen Charlotte City, and the prime minister was there to open the brand spanking new Haida museum.

Click on that aforementioned link and croll down until you get to Haida Gwaii Museum. On that day forty years ago, it didn’t look anything like it does in these pictures. I remember rickety folding tables outside laid with salmon and all sorts of food, Haida dancing, displays of Haida button blankets and mud. I remember lots of mud.

It was there that I met Margaret Trudeau. My baby daughter was fussing and I retreated away from the press of people and stood under a tree. It may have been raining slightly. A friend of mine came over and pointed, “That’s Margaret Trudeau over there. See her? Why don’t you go over and say hello?”

There she was. Standing alone. By herself.

I went over and we struck up the most wonderful conversation. She was friendly and kept going on about my beautiful little baby girl, and how she had sons, three of them, in fact (of course I already knew this) and how her youngest was with his grandma in Vancouver because he “has the sniffles.”

(Oh, and I must mention this here. All kinds of things were different back then. You could walk right up to important people without security keeping you away. Partway through the ceremony my husband hoisted Justin, our now prime minister, on his shoulders so he could see his dad better. I wish we had a picture. Sadly, we don’t. But, then again, maybe that’s a good thing!)

Since that meeting I have followed her through the years, her antics (which are legendary), her books, even her early ones, and of course, her mental health struggles. Because I had met her and she was so gracious to me, I was always prone to forgive her her many transgressions. I always stuck up for her.

Truth was, she wasn’t being difficult, she was battling bi-polar and depression. It wasn’t until later in life that she finally got a handle on this with medications and therapies that work. She now travels extensively through this country lecturing on mental health issues.

If you are interested in reading her personal story in its entirety, may I suggest Changing my Mind.

I was pleased to be able to meet her a second time this past fall when she came to my city to tell her story and speak about mental health.

In this blog are two photos. The first is of Margaret and me on Haida Gwaii back in 1976, and the second is of Margaret and me this past fall. My, how we both have changed from young mother hippies to serious women with lots of grandkids and lots of stories to tell.

But all of this is by way of introduction. Whew! 

My intention today is to recommend her latest book,  The Time of Your Life. If you are a baby boomer woman, especially a Canadian baby boomer woman, then this book is for you.

I found it to be uplifting, inspirational, funny and personal. I could relate on almost every level. The subtitle urges women to choose “a vibrant, joyful future” But we are women in our mid-sixties. We’re mostly retired now. Choosing a "vibrant joyful future" gets to be something you do in your twenties, maybe thirties, not your sixties, not your seventies, right?

Wrong, according to Trudeau. She calls on older women to “reinvent what it means to age.”

She begins the book by stating:

Women should prepare in their fifties for the rest of their lives. What we do today will affect how long we live, how healthy we will be where we will live, how much fun we will have, how solvent we will be.

She calls on women to “rediscover” their purpose. No sitting and rocking for us, she cites numerous stories of women who have found purpose in continuing to work at their careers well into their dotage, women who have found fulfillment in volunteering, in traveling and finding adventure and personal fulfillment in helping others across the globe. She also encourages us baby boomer women to take up new creative pursuits.

All through the book I thought of the quote which is attibuted to CS Lewis: “You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”

The book is full of many, many stories of older women who set new goals, dreamed new dreams.

One of my favorite sections was “embrace the freedom of invisibility.” And let’s face it, women "of a certain age" become unnoticed, invisible. Instead, of wringing our hands over that, we should embrace it. We can do more. We can do more good with nobody watching, nobody noticing. She calls on women to find the upside of “being invisible.”

Did you know that statistics state that women tend to become happier as they age? That’s in there, too.

Trudeau is not afraid to share personal stories, even very personal ones on her own older dating experiences.

There are chapters on health, housing, finances, and finally grief, for that is the one thing we know, or will come to know as we age - grief and letting go of loved ones. I loved that chapter very much, and I’m sure it’s one I will read over and over.

I will end with this Native American saying:

“No Wise Person ever wanted to be younger.”

NEXT TIME: a timely, serious topic, I will be exploring and recommending a series of sexual harassment videos #thatsharassment. Watch them here.