And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 21 to 23, 2015.

I’ve now read three out of the five books for Canada Reads 2015. While I couldn’t get all of the books read for the debates that happened this last week, I will finish all five! I will discuss the choice of the winner and my collective thoughts on all five books in a post once I’ve finished them all.

Now, this book, is astonishingly beautiful. Death and aging are aspects of life that no one ever likes to discuss, admit or confront. It’s one of the few things that we have no control over in our lives, but for Tom and Charlie, two older gentleman, they choose to live the rest of their lives on their own terms and make the conversation of death a welcome topic of conversation. Tom and Charlie live out in some remote woods with no connection to the modern world, with their only companions being that of their dogs and two pot growers. Tom enjoys his drink, most of the time a bit too much. but he is charming and loves to reminisce, whereas Charlie is more reserved and keeps to himself a bit more.  However, things are about to change for the two men.

A curious female photographer, looking for their very recently deceased friend, Ted, surprises the men with her ability to get to their remote homes without alarming their dogs. She has come to document and photograph the remaining individuals who lived through the great and devastating fires that spread through Northern Ontario at the beginning of the century, an event which Ted had lived through and was quite reclusive about. Rumors, stories and her own detective work had finally brought the photographer to the right place but just not in time. However, the brief hospitality that she received was enough for her to return as Tom and Charlie were intriguing on their own. What ends up making the photographer a consistent returning visitor is the appearance of Gertrude, who is one of the pot grower’s aunts. Gertrude has broken her out of a psychiatric ward where she had lived her whole life. Gertrude’s story is extremely tragic, but she finally has the opportunity to live her own life. The men don’t know what to do with a woman, especially one that knows nothing about living in the woods, but they know they can’t let her go back to where she came from so they happily accommodate her. For Charlie, the appearance of Gertrude will change him forever and give him a new life and new perspective on death.

While originally written in French, the beauty of this book is not lost in translation. It’s easy to relate to the characters, no matter what age you are and their story is a reminder to us that it’s never too late for a second chance at life. However, in terms of Canada Reads, it doesn’t quite fit the bill for the theme this year, which is breaking barriers. The choices that Tom and Charlie make, to meet death on their own terms, really shows more determination than anything else. I suppose they do break some barriers in that they are choosing to live such a remote lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s enough.  So while this book has been my favourite so far, I am not surprised that it didn’t win and was taken out of the debate early on.

If you’ve ever contemplated your own mortality or position in life, then I would highly recommend reading this refreshing book.

Casino Royale by Ian Flemming

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3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 208 pages.
Read from March 03 to 08, 2015.

Well, my Ian Flemming virginity has now been taken as I have now officially read my first James Bond novel and it was everything I hoped it would be. The movie actually follows this plot line pretty well and the areas in which they didn’t I say it’s because they improved upon it and made it relevant for modern viewers.

James Bond is selfish, intelligent, sophisticated, calculating and suave. He is given the task of gambling and winning against an odd Russian operative named Le Chiffre at Casino Royale. The premise being, if Le Chiffre loses all of this money then his Soviet contacts will have no need of him and will kill him. In the book the two of them are playing baccarat, which I don’t think they replicated in the movie.  Bond has assessed the situation and is ready for the job, that is until Vesper is sent to work with him. Bond isn’t pleased by this at first. He prefers to work alone and doesn’t want any ‘distractions’. As the two work together, Bond finds her company tolerable. After some intense games of baccarat, Bond succeeds in his mission. Bond thinks that the threat from Le Chiffre is gone, but things go array when Vesper gets kidnapped and in pursuing her Bond is also caught and subjected to nightmare-causing scene of intense torture. This is the book in which you get to see, a bit, and I do mean a bit, of Bond’s more vulnerable side. After everything that Bond goes through the twist at the end of the book is quite sad.

Bond describes Vesper like she is something he can eat and his views on women are misogynist, as he believes that  they should not be doing the work of men and that they belong in the kitchen. Literally. He actually said that in the book. Now I was expecting misogyny in this book, I mean it’s Bond and it was written in the 1950s. However, Bond is way more of a dick than I was expecting. I couldn’t believe the names he called Vespa! For example, he calls her a silly bitch more than once and definitely undermines and diminishes her frequently. This is not the sexy James Bond I have pictured in my head or even the ones portrayed on the big screen. The James Bond in this book is cold, only cares about himself, has superficial charm and has NO respect for women. The Bond that I know loves women and may sleep with a lot of them but he doesn’t belittle them. To counter that though, Vespa is really smart and working in man’s world. She assesses Bond perfectly and knows what kind of man he is and knows how to handle herself around him. She is still too submissive and apologetic for my liking, but hey, it is the 1950s.

Even with the misogyny, I did enjoy the book. I was just a little taken back at Bond’s abrupt character. I’m really glad that the James Bond that’s in the movies is a more likable. I would hazard a guess now that the one actor that probably played James Bond the truest to the books is Timothy Dalton, as his movies have not been favourites among the fans due to how harsh, cold and borderline cruel he portrayed Bond.

As for the writing itself, it’s good and quite concise in that nothing is fluffy or needless is said, which is just like Bond, really.  The torture scene is so well done, I was cringing while reading it and I’m not even a man!  Now that I’ve got the first one down, I hope to work my way, in order through the rest of the novels. I’m curious to know if Bond’s character is dynamic and will grow throughout the next few books. Until then, I think I’ll go and drink a martini.

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Read from February 07 to 16, 2015.

I picked up this gem while I was actually in Cuba back in January of this year. It was my first trip to Cuba and I realized how little I knew about this fascinating little country with its big and expansive history. Thankfully there wasn’t a shortage of propaganda where I was staying. If I had more money and space in my suitcase I would have purchased quite a few more books.

Che is a remarkable individual and his dedication to Cuba and to the cause of communism is almost next to nothing. Che comes across as extremely intelligent and very articulate. His memoirs and diaries are published everywhere which probably makes him one of the most exposed politicians around. Don’t get me wrong, the Cuban government is pretty good at giving the leaders of their communist revolution a great reputation, and they have to. The history of Cuba is a rocky one, so the insurgence of this particular revolution was necessary for its time. From the Spanish to the British, and then the US, someone else was always taking advantage of Cuba and its people suffered for it. In 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista threw a coup to overthrow Gerado Machado, a Cuban dictator known for his vicious rule. Sadly, after this coup, little changed under Batista’s rule. It was in 1953 when Fidel Castro made his  first attempt to revolt against Batista’s regime. It would be after this attack that a young Argentinian doctor named Ernesto Guevara would join the cause and assist in Cuba’s revolution and liberation.

“Che” is a form of colloquial Argentinian Spanish slang used in a vocative sense as “friend”. Che is the famous nickname given to Ernesto as a joke and term of endearment based on his heritage from his fellow Cuban comrades.

This book is a personal description of Che’s experiences during this pivotal revolution. Che spares no details with how difficult it was living in the forest for months at time and the sad deaths and sacrifices endured by all, especially the peasants of Cuba, who were initially afraid to assist or join the cause. His recollection is impressive as he remembers many of the names of some of the small time peasants who were essential in helping with the revolution that might have other wise been forgotten. He also details the specifics of those who betrayed the cause. Some he speaks of with remorse or honor and others with absolute distaste and resentment. It was exciting to see how big the small group of rebels became over such a short period of time . In 1959 the rebels send a group of 9000 strong into Havana, forcing Batista to flee, starting the beginning of a new era for Cuba, one that would bring positive change to the country and the lives of its people for the better.

From my own impressions of Cuba, some aspects of communism are no longer serving its people. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not saying that they need to replace their system with American capitalism but there are definitely areas that need improvement. The locals don’t have immediate access to some of the best food or clothes because they are too expensive and some people are still not allowed to leave specific regions of Cuba. Tourists get the best of everything, while they don’t. I was asked twice, discreetly, while I was there if I had any clothes or items that I was willing to part with. It made me pretty sad but if I wasn’t there as a tourist their economy and the people there would have even less. With tensions currently being mended between America and Cuba, as much as I don’t want this quaint country to become Americanized, it will eventually mean improvements for the locals.

Overall, a good description of the events and people that changed Cuba to make it the country that it is today.