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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay
Published by Atria Books ISBN 9781501165139
Hardcover, $26, 304 pages

Australian author Ashley Hay's A Hundred Small Lessons tells the story of two woman who lived in the same house at two different times. When elderly Elsie Gormley falls in her house and breaks her hip, she has to move from the home where she and her beloved husband Clem raised their twins, Elaine and Don now 70 years old, to a nursing home.

Elsie lost Clem over thirty years ago and has lived alone since then. She has a good relationship with her son Don and his wife Carol, but she and Elaine have clashed since Elaine was a teenager. Elsie loves Elaine's daughter Gloria and spent a lot of time with Gloria while she was growing up.

Elaine didn't take to mothering as Elsie did. Elaine married young, like her mother, but never reveled in the joy of raising her daughter and keeping house. One of the most poignant scenes takes place as Elaine pours her heart out to Clem about how desparately unhappy she is with her life. Clem listens to his daughter, and tells her that it isn't too late to go back to school or find a satisfying job. Clem has a much different, warmer relationship with Elaine than Elsie did.

Lucy, her husband Ben and their toddler son Tom buy Elsie's house when she moves to the nursing home. Lucy loves her husband and son, but she is melancholy. Ben travels frequently for work, and he and Lucy have moved several times across the world, finally settling in Brisbane.

Lucy becomes somewhat obsessed with Elsie. She finds a box of photos in the attic that belonged to Elsie, and when Tom accidentally spills something on them and ruins them, she is upset. Lucy feels Elsie's presence in the house, and even tells Ben that she has seen Elsie in the garden. Ben indulges Lucy at first, but he becomes increasingly exasperated by Lucy's continued behavior.

As a middle-aged woman Elsie poses for a portrait for an artist who lives nearby. This experience changes Elsie in a profound way. She begins to see herself in a different light.

Lucy meanwhile speaks frequently of her vardogers- versions of Lucy Kiss who exist in different times and places, a Sliding Doors effect. She brings up her vardogers when an old boyfreind unexpectedly turns up at her door.

Hay writes very descriptively- her opening paragraph, describing the house as Elsie sees it from the floor where she has fallen is particularly evocative. It makes you want to lie on your own floor to see what you see, things that you miss seeing everyday from your usual perspective.

A Hundred Small Lessons, whose title is taken from a Michael Ondaatje poem that Lucy recited to Ben on one of their first dates, is about the journeys taken by Elsie and Lucy on their way to finding their own identities. It's about growing into your own identity and marriage and motherhood and how they change you.

There is a coincidence that hints at a connection that Lucy's family and Elsie's family have that ties them together in a sweet manner, making for a lovely ending to this story. Of the two stories, I found Elsie's more interesting, maybe because we got more of it as she was older. And Clem was such a sweetheart, he gives husbands a good name.

Ashley Hay's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Ashley Hay's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Ashley Hay’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, November 27th: The Sketchy Reader and @thesketchyreader
Tuesday, November 28th: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, November 28th: Literary Jo Reviews blog and @literaryjo
Wednesday, November 29th: 5 Minutes for Books
Thursday, November 30th: BookNAround
Monday, December 4th: West Metro Mommy Reads
Tuesday, December 5th: Kahakai Kitchen blog and @debinhawaii
Wednesday, December 6th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, December 7th: Novel Gossip blog and @novelgossip
Monday, December 11th: Katy’s Library blog and @katyslibrary
Wednesday, December 13th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, December 14th: Girl Who Reads
Monday, December 18th: Suzy Approved
Tuesday, December 19th: Write Read Life
Thursday, December 21st: Fiction Aficionado

Monday, December 11, 2017

Books Are Great Gifts 2017

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Now that Thanksgiving is done and we’ve eaten all the leftovers, it’s time to get serious about our holiday shopping, and that means our annual Books Make Great Gifts Guide. Books always fit and are never the wrong color.

Young children on your list will enjoy “Malala’s Magic Pencil”,  a book that encourages children to look at the world around them, written by the inspirational Malala Yousafzai and illustrated by Kerascoet. 
Malala's Magic Pencil

For middle grade students, debut novelist’s Karina Yan Glaser’s “The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street” introduces us to a lovely family of seven who live in an apartment in New York City. When their landlord announces they must move after Christmas, the Vanderbeeker kids work to change his mind. It’s a good old-fashioned family story told in a modern setting.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Young Adult readers will devour Marie Wu’s propulsive novel, “Warcross” about a young gamer who, while working as a spy at the International Warcross Championships, uncovers a conspiracy. It’s the first in the series, and it’s for fans of “The Hunger Games.” 

A nice stocking stuffer book for older children is Admiral William H. Raven’s “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World”, taken from his speech to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s good advice we can all use. 
Make Your Bed

If you know a parent who needs a good laugh this season, Laurie Gelman’s “Class Mom” about a hilarious older mom who ends up once again as class mom for her son’s kindergarten will have them rolling on the floor. 
Class Mom

E. Robuck’s “#HockeyStrong” is geared toward parents who spent countless hours at the hockey rink, soccer or baseball field watching their child. This satire gets all the details just right, with plenty of laughs as well. 

For the person who grew up watching 1970’s television, there are two good choices. “Caroline- Little House Revisited” by Sarah Miller tells the story of “Little House On The Prairie’ from mother Caroline’s viewpoint instead of daughter Laura’s.  

If you know from the title of the book- “Meddling Kids”- that this book evokes Scooby-Doo and the gang, then you are right.  Edgar Cantero’s book is set in 1990 and reunites a group of former teen detectives known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club, who last saw each other in 1977. Let’s just say the intervening years haven’t been kind to them. 
Meddling Kids

For people on your list who like to have their hearts racing when they read, Maile Meloy’s “Do Not Become Alarmed”, about a group of children who go missing during a family cruise to a foreign port of call, will do the trick. The story is told from the points of the view of the frantic parents and the children who are missing, and even though the reader knows where the children are, it’s still a breathless journey. 
Do Not Become Alarmed

Novels set during WWII have been popular in the past few years (“All The Light You Cannot See”, “The Lilac Girls”), and Kate Quinn’s “The Alice Network”, set in two different time periods- WWI and WWII- is a perfect gift for those readers. It’s based on a real group of female spies who worked to defeat Germany, and it’s a pulse-pounder. 
The Alice Network

Another book based on a true incident is Wiley Cash’s novel “The Last Ballad”, the story of Ella Mae Wiggins, a young mother working in a North Carolina factory who ends up a labor organizer. Although set in 1929, it’s a timely story. 
The Last Ballad

For people who like to watch true crime shows, Monica Hesse’s “American Fire” tells the true story of a series of arsons that occurred in Virginia in 2012-2013, the investigation into the fires, and a town that has fallen on hard times. 
American Fire

Biographies are always popular, and Sally Bedell Smith’s “Prince Charles” is perfect for the Anglophile fan of “The Crown” on Netflix. Astronaut Scott Kelly shares his story of spending a year in space in his memoir “Endurance”, a book for science enthusiasts. 
Prince Charles

If you like to give coffee table books, Pete Souza’s “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” is a collection of many photos he took as official photographer of the Obama administration. You’ll see iconic photos and many you haven’t seen before. 
Obama: An Intimate Portrait

And for the cook on your list, Ree Drummond's "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It!" is geared towards busy people who want to make delicious meals for their families. 
The Pioneer Woman Cooks