Book Review: The Deception of Livvy Higgs

 The Deception of Livvy Higgs holds all the intrigue and mystery I’ve come to find in East Coast Canlit. I thought often of The Bishop’s Man (Linden MacIntyre) and Glass Boys (Nicole Lundrigan) while reading, which also illustrate the harsh landscapes like Cape Breton and Newfoundland and stories of hardscrabble upbringing, all done with mysteriously cloaked writing. The Deception of Livvy Higgs was no different, as we are left to sift through the whisperings and lies by everyone in Livvy’s life in order to slowly uncover and piece together the events that shaped Livvy’s childhood.

When we first come upon Livvy, she is now an 80 year old woman living in Halifax next door to a young woman, Gen and her son Ronnie. Ronnie presents Livvy with a photo frame of a candid pose of Livvy standing by her gate. She is deeply shocked to see how aged she is. Livvy also suffers from severe asthma and appears to be having a number of anxiety attacks on and off throughout the day causing her to doze repeatedly in her rocking chair. While she sleeps, we are brought back to Livvy’s childhood in the French quarter of Newfoundland where her mother is often found ranting about her husband (Livvy’s father) and her mother (Livvy’s grandmother).  Layers of her past are held deep inside Livvy’s mind and each time she goes off for a nap we glimpse and begin to uncover pieces of the torment her mother endured from Livvy’s father and her grandmother. When Livvy’s mother dies, she is left bereft with a scornful father.

Livvy is surrounded by lies and you must sift through the whisperings that Livvy has heard constantly during her youth. Livvy now drifts in and out of sleep that take us back to where the whispers and distrust and fighting and jealousy between her mother, her father and her grandmother tumble around looking to be pieced together to uncover the truth. Livvy guides us through the true reason behind her father’s marriage to her mother, the reasons why her father is disgusted and scornful by Livvy’s mother and herself and even her grandmother. She sifts through the hatred and even the alliance between her father and grandmother. Why is there so much distrust, lies, and stories. It all comes about as she drifts in to a memory filled deep sleep. Each sleep Livvy drifts in to becomes deeper and deeper and the longer we spent in her past. Each time she slips into the past it becomes harder and harder for Gen to pull her back to the present.

We slowly uncover the reason why Livvy’s parents wed, what really happened that night at the shore when her grandmother’s ship capsized, captained by Durwin’s father, and Durwin himself. The Captain drowned and Durwin is forever raging against the Frenchmen that helped rescue young Durwin. Why was the ship so close to the rocks of Newfoundland in the first place if the planned trip was to sail to England off Halifax? Why did they come in so close? What are these whisperings of Lloyds and insurance and payments that constantly fly around Livvy’s ears? Most of all, we learn of Livvy’s loneliness and a life filled with distrust that shapes her youth and maturing self and of the disdain and scorn of her father.

” I look into his eyes and see the hatred smoldering beneath his strife, his hatred for all things, for Mister Louis, for Missus Louis, and for Mother. And me too, no matter that I’m his child who’s done no harm. He’s fuelling a rage against me too, for it’s easier to hate me than learn the wrong he’s doing me.”

Morrissey’s writing is something to relish as well and a taste of it can be found in the following:

 ” I come to Father’s curtain, where he lies inside waiting for no one, his past hours, his memories, strung out like ill-written postcards that lead me not into his tomorrow, for my hand is already poised for his final goodbye.”

While reading this novel, Remembrance Day occurred and it was a nice time to read this story as it gave a heartfelt, fleeting glimpse in to how the war touched those in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland during WWII.

The Deception of Livvy Higgs was a very good story. I am quite partial to those stories where we travel back in to the past lives of these special, yet everyday heroines.  This particular story is a beautiful and lyrical portrait of Livvy and her struggles in a life filled with loneliness and strife. On Canaan’s Side and my most recent read Orphan Train also came to mind when reading this novel. I have had Morrissey’s novels on my To Be Read List for some time, this was the first one I’ve read by her and I’m certain to go back and discover her other novels on my list.

Audiobook Review: In the Pleasure Groove – Life, Death and Duran Duran

***DISCLAIMER: This will be a 100% biased review!!!***

John Taylor, founding member of Duran Duran and bass god extraordinaire, has written his autobiography. WOW! Am I dreaming?? Reading + Duran Duran– my 2 favourite things all in one!?? Yes! It is true! In the Pleasure Groove – Life, Death and Duran Duran tells the story of how the most wonderful band in the world came together, how they lived through the excessive 80’s and how they are still making FANTASTIC music to this day (seriously, pick up their latest– All You Need Is Now— it is great GREAT stuff!!). 

For those non-Durannies out there, Duran Duran is a band that was formed in Birmingham, England in 1978. They were part of a musical movement called the “New Wave”– a kind of glam/punk fusion that infiltrated the radio waves during the early half of the 1980’s. The look was extremely androgynous and Duran Duran definitely fit the mould–  Frilly shirts? check! Scarves and sashes? Check and check! Burgundy hair, eyeliner and pouty poses? Check, check and check! By 1984 they had 5 hits, were the HUGEST band in the world and 13-year-old girls EVERYWHERE had posters of John Taylor on their walls (myself included). Some 30 years later our JT tells the tale from his perspective. 

JT has said in several interviews that his book is not a time-line history of the band filled with facts that you could find with any Google query but it is more of an opportunity to pay homage to the place of his birth (Birmingham) and to the people who made it all happen. As the “young prince of the neighbourhood” we hear about his earliest memory (walking to church with his mum to listen to the hymns), his introduction to “popular music” through his cousin Eddie and meeting up with pal (and co-founder of Duran) Nick Rhodes to skip school and sneak off to concerts at age 14 (same age as my son! YIKES!)! Once he caught the music bug he KNEW that he had to be a part of it– all he had to do was learn an instrument! Maybe I would have liked a teenie tiny bit more about his brief solo career and a bit more detail regarding the Reunion (of the Snake!) of 2003 but– hey! I can’t complain!

Reading this book would have been a pleasure on its own but I made the wise choice to listen to the Audiobook narrated by none other than the man himself!! Can I love him even more after that?? I don’t think so! JT’s speaking voice was absolutely perfect– it felt as if he was speaking just for me! It was touching to hear him speak so fondly of his parents, his band mates and to fellow musicians that he has both admired and been in competition with. His ups and downs make him even more human and possibly even more attractive.

John Taylor is a genuinely nice guy who is excited to be sharing his story as I found out in Toronto, Ontario on October 29, 2012. Over 500 people showed up at the Indigo Bookstore (in TERRIBLE weather) to listen to him speak about his book and he stayed until all who wanted a signed copy were satisfied! Such a GREAT guy! Can’t WAIT for the new album and to see them live again (which they are planning for 2013). Not every band can brag a 30+ year old career! I am a lucky fan! 5 stars from this Durannie (maybe a 3.5 for non-fans– if there is such thing)!

Audiobook Review: Call The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Thank you Audiobook Jukebox and HighBridge Audio for sharing Call The Midwife.  To properly describe this enchanting memoir, the word magnificent immediately comes to mind.  It includes remarkable story lines, lovely prose, brilliant dialogue and an unmistakable current of faith that runs throughout.  This memoir sets the bar high for others in its genre, as Jennifer Worth’s work was, and is, a marvel in every way.

Set in postwar London’s East End slums, Call The Midwife follows the extraordinary work of 22-year old Jennifer, who joins the tireless midwifery efforts of the nuns of St. Raymund’s Nonnatus House.  Jennifer, a talented and patient midwife in her own right, fits in beautifully among a team of the selfless and spiritual.  As her work begins, she encounters some of the most endearing and personable characters ever penned.

Besides Jennifer herself, my list of favorite characters was lengthy.  Sister Monica Joan, the elderly nun who was a pioneer of her midwifery calling, is among the people I will now miss terribly.  No one ever seemed to know what would come out of Sister Monica Joan’s mouth, but I can guarantee that her existential musings will impress even the most stoic reader.  She was a mischievous delight!

Conchita Warren, a patient who, during the period of this memoir, gives birth to her twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth children (no, those are not typos) will move you.  Her brood of loving children and her adoring husband serve as examples for all of us.

I could go on, affectionately recalling big-hearted Chummy, terrified little Irish Mary, and the precious Mrs. Jenkins who lost her way by succumbing to the terrors of the Workhouse.  The chapters read like short stories; each one strong enough to be its own novel.  Emotions run high in these accounts, bringing the reader laughter, and then tears moments later.  Every birth in this poverty-ridden neighborhood is a miracle.  Every kindness feels like a celebration.  Every Cockney “allo luvvy – how’s about a nice cup ‘o tea?” will warm your heart. And while you are enthralled with each character’s plight, you will also learn a surprising and frank history of midwifery and medicine.  From the hesitation of women to give birth in a modern hospital to the background of penicillin…  it’s all there.

What I found especially profound was Jennifer’s discovery of her faith.  Throughout the story, she resists the little voice that was telling her that she was part of something bigger.  As her experience grows, and she witnesses everyday miracles, she opens her heart.  It was utterly moving.

After finishing Call The Midwife (and immediately searching for every other memoir Jennifer Worth has ever written), I was inspired by the strength of the women in this book.  The nuns, the midwives and the mothers who lovingly raised their children in the most squalid conditions were all champions.  Goodreads provides some of Jennifer Worth’s background, and it was not a surprise to read that she was remarkable throughout her life:

After leaving school at the age of 14, she learned shorthand and typing and became the secretary to the head of Dr Challoner’s Grammar School. She then trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and moved to London to receive training to become a midwife.

Lee was hired as a staff nurse at the London Hospital in Whitechapel in the early 1950s. With the Sisters of St John the Divine, an Anglican community of nuns, she worked to aid the poor. She was then a ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in Bloomsbury, and later at the Marie Curie Hospital in Hampstead.

She married the artist Philip Worth in 1963, and they had two daughters.

Worth retired from nursing in 1973 to pursue her musical interests. In 1974, she received a licentiate of the London College of Music, where she taught piano and singing. She obtained a fellowship in 1984. She performed as a soloist and with choirs throughout Britain and Europe.

She later began writing, and her first volume of memoirs, ‘Call the Midwife’, was published in 2002…

Worth’s memoirs deserve a wide audience.  Read them.  5 Stars for Call The Midwife.

Now it’s time for my ode to Nicola Barber, narrator of Call The Midwife.  If you are faced with the choice of reading this memoir, or listening to it, choose the latter.  Barber is brilliant.  She slips into every accent effortlessly, and her Cockney accent is particularly charming.  She carries the weight of the stories with ease and affection, and embodies the characters beautifully.  I’ve decided that Ms. Barber should narrate every audiobook on my to-read list.  I hope she doesn’t mind.

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“A gleeful, exhilirating tale of global conspiracy, code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life – mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.” (taken from inside flap)

It’s that “MOSTLY set in” contained in that statement that you have to pay very close attention to, for this book described as “Shadow of the Wind-esque” is not at all about that I’m afraid. It’s not so much about a bookstore, for book-loving readers (as I recall it being marketed). It’s about Google, computer programming and code-breaking. It just happens to take place in a bookstore.

Did I mention Google?

I don’t think I mentioned Google?

GOOGLE GOOGLE GOOGLE.

It’s about Google.

I also I think I may have been born one generation too early to truly enjoy this as it is almost entirely about the get-rich quick generation from internet-based work, code-breaking, high-tech visualization and video games. Gawd, have I really just done that? Have I completely aged myself and came across as an old lady?

At first, it was an amusing read, he’s funny in many parts but then I became very bored with the Google, Google, Google fascination. He wants to work at Google, Google is awesome, his new girlfriend works at Google. Google is cool. Throw in a lot of computer programming and code talk, video games, I’m unemployed but used to have a really cool job designing ads for a bagel company  (you know that age where you started up a coffee shop, designed a trendy logo and created a website for it and became an instant success). Now that the bagel store has gone under Clay is unemployed and finds himself upon an odd, narrow and very old bookstore with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore stencilled on the front window (in a typeface that’s so old it’s almost cool again). It just became waaaay too much fonts, design, computer, internet, internet, Google, Google, Google for my enjoyment. Add in the dungeons and dragons kind of stuff and oooh a cool chick that likes computers and works at Google  and it just solidified my non-interest in this story. It was overwhelmingly mired in the whole “sell your idea to Google and become rich era”. It became overwhelmingly shallow and boring.

Strange people and strange books are indeed a part of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. Clay is allowed to work there (the night shift) but he can’t touch any of the books, can’t read any of the books and must only record everything about any encounter with any person that enters the bookstore. There’s a “usual” cast of characters that come in, all the books are ancient tomes of cryptic writing and each morning Mr. Penumbra comes in and asks Clay who came in that was interesting? There is a secret “boss” Corvina. But, the “mystery” behind this bookstore becomes far too bogged down by programming references and tyopgraphy (and Google!) that its premise became lost and lame for me.

And in the end….Clay says he’ll write a book about his experiences in Penumbra’s bookstore and sell it to Barnes and Noble. Sigh.

Very Disappointing read for me. I’m very sorry to have written such a poor review, but this book was not at all what I anticipated.