CONVERSATIONS FOR TWO by Jacqueline Markowitz

convos-for-two

5 out of 5

Conversations for Two beautifully presents the fragmented memory of one woman after a life of loss and love. Inspired by the loss of Markowitz’s brother and the rediscovery of his personal writings years later, Markowitz uses these pieces of him to ask what about memory is tangible and what is imagined; how “real” are the written words that Markowitz can hold in her hand? What of the images they inspire? The use of metaphor and lyrical prose unearths the beauty in tragedy in a pure and gorgeous way.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline at Toronto’s 2016 Word on the Street festival, and interviewed her over the phone two days later. She is a wonderfully kind and interesting woman. I could have talked with her all day, but that would have been selfish of me. I wanted to specifically probe her for more details about the Beatles concert she attended when she was ten years old, but alas. She also started her own publishing company, The Jam Press, under which she published Conversations for Two. The company’s logo—a little strawberry—reminds me of the movie Across the Universe based on the Beatles’ music and the song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Jacqueline Markowitz writes as if from a dream. I feel as if I’m seeing her thoughts from underwater in the most dazzling way. Some of my favourite descriptions of hers are about the woman’s mother. Here is an excerpt that has stayed with me for over a week now:

“I squeeze my eyes and see her. She is ethereal in the green water, scented with lavender. She would never see the beauty that I saw. One shoulder is lower than the other, and her hips are out of line. Her body is lopsided, the shape of a woman who carried children on one hip while dealing with the meat and potatoes of life on the other. There are the scar slashes where a breast used to be. Her body has been ransacked of its treasures. The outline of the pacemaker is sheltered within her beautiful collarbones, from which her skin is neatly folded and hung.

“I can see her. She had the skin of sonnets, creamy, even as life seeped in those feathery lines than fanned from the edges of her eyes, especially when she smiled. She would say it’s because she drank a cup of hot water with lemon every morning. And, I can see her face as she looked in her bedroom mirror at night, her little finger bent with arthritis smoothing cream across the contours of her face, and sometimes she could catch a glimpse of the woman who lived inside of her. Her eyes once brown, now laced with blue and green. Green like mine.”

-Jacqueline Markowitz, Conversations for Two

I honestly haven’t read anything so good in months, perhaps even a year. This is a book that stays with you in your heart as you live your life, quietly staying shadowed in the background. It’ll ease back out every now and then with a good quote or a simple word or two pertaining to my life’s goings-on. If I had to describe it simply, I would say it is a sigh on the wind. Quiet and peaceful, and now a part of me as the wind is part of the earth.

THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES by Sarah Maine

house between

3 out of 5

In Sarah Maine’s The House Between Tides, a deceased painter’s Scottish summer house is inherited by Hetty. Her attention is immediately brought to the bones discovered under the centuries-old manor, and the story of the manor’s previous owners is slowly woven together. Theo Blake and his young wife Beatrice had a happy start, but their relationship soon grew troubled as the house and its memories haunted the artist. What happened that led to the body under the floorboards?

Like Theo Blake, Maine is a painter in her own right, sucking the reader in through the picturesque Scottish landscape. Beatrice’s storyline throbs with intensity and keeps the story alive. In contrast, Hetty and company are far from fully formed characters; it is clear that Maine cared more for the characters of the past and neglected to bring the same interest and tension into the present storyline. Additionally, the plot does little to build suspense in the reader until the end. Not that the novel is boring, but rather Maine carries the reader along a horizontal path that suddenly spikes with fifty pages left to go. A slow read that would have worked better had Maine focused on the stronger storyline and done away with the other all together.

WE THAT ARE LEFT by Clare Clark

we that are

4 out of 5

This story about how the haunting nature of World War One permeated all generations after it and the everlasting scars that the war left behind follows Jessica Melville and Oscar Greenwood (née Grunewald) as they navigate the pseudo-purgatory that encased Europe immediately following 1918. Being the same age as the boys who fought, Jessica and Oscar are surrounded by the ghosts of war. Jessica finds solace in the London nightlife, but reminders of the dead eventually seep into even those dingy underground rooms. Oscar, always the intellect, feels it to be his duty to continue the work that the dead were robbed of before an intense love affair distracts him from his studies. Clark writes dialectic turns of phrase that are at times captivating, at others awkward, replicating actual speech well. In her surprising word choices that create a rich and melodious prose, Clark expresses a depth of understanding for the youth of this period who were left behind as the war raged on the continent that is rarely matched. Though the beginning did not metamorphose well into the ending—Oscar, in particular, seamlessly transformed from an incredibly frail, perhaps even obsessive, child into a largely faultless Prince Charming in his adulthood—the experience of reading We That Are Left was quite pleasant in its entirety. Fans of Downton Abbey should not hesitate to pick this up as a balm for their withdrawal, as Clark offers another look into the worlds of upper- and middling-class England during the war years that is perhaps more realistic and definitely juicier.

MRS. HOUDINI by Victoria Kelly

Mrs Houdini

3 out of 5

In her debut novel, Victoria Kelly revives Harry Houdini’s incredible mystery. The reader is transported in time between the rise of Houdini’s career alongside his wife Bess and the years after his death in which she attempted to communicate with him in the spirit world. Two parts love story and one part detective fiction, Mrs. Houdini is an interesting rendition of the couple’s life both together and apart.

Kelly’s strength lies in her writing of the intense love between Harry and Bess, and it is a great loss that she failed to explore that thread more; the portions of the plot detailing Bess’s search for the spirit of her husband felt haphazardly pieced together, lacked spark, and were logically ambiguous. I carried on reading for the love story, although I experienced discomfort in reading Kelly’s fictional portrayal of Harry’s “secret.” It felt akin to slandering the dead and I am left feeling unsure as to why Kelly chose this route. That being said, I encourage readers to pick this up for Kelly’s mostly loving depiction of the couple and am interested to read Kelly’s next work.

THE DETECTIVE’S DAUGHTER by Lesley Thomson

detective

4 out of 5

Lesley Thomson’s The Detective’s Daughter is first-rate detective fiction. Following the life of Stella Darnell after she learns about the death of her father, the plot is interwoven with threads of loss, forgiveness, and grief which make Thomson’s prose gentle and addictive. The novel is interspersed with the points of view of other characters working either together or against each other to solve the murder of Kate Rokesmith, which haunted Terry Darnell until his death. Through the unsolved case, Stella reconnects with the father she felt she never had in life. While the majority of the novel leaves the reader guessing who the culprit might be, I had it figured out by the last quarter of the book, which was ultimately disappointing; when it comes to detective fiction, I long to be surprised at the end. Circumstances also seemed to fall into place too easily, causing me to wonder just how likely it would be to solve a case like this in real life. That being said, Thomson is the bar to which other authors, and not just those writing detective fiction, must measure up. The prose comes with such ease that I was transported to those cold winter days in England by the sea. The characters are endearing and the mystery troubling. Overall very well done.

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Check out this book on Goodreads.

Book Love: Best Drink & Book Pairings

Some things just go so well together. Junk food and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Knitting while listening to podcasts. Tea and Downton Abbey. And there’s nothing better than curling up in a comfy spot with a good book and the perfect drink to go along with it.

Most people probably associate reading with warm drinks, but this list will include all sorts (though all the beverages will be virgin for our non-legal friends).

detectiveBook: The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson
Drink: Warm milk with honey
This is one of the main character’s, Jack’s, favourite drink and it constantly comes up throughout the book. It had me craving one even though I’m lactose intolerant. This book also takes place in the wintertime across a span of time where there is endless snow, and the thought of a warm drink was soothing in this otherwise edge-of-your-seat detective story.

 

saint anythingBook: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Drink: Orange Pop
Most people reference the food when talking about this book, but what goes better with pizza and French fries than a bottle of pop? Even though this book has darker themes, I do think orange pop is the best choice because it goes along with Layla’s bright personality so well. However, you could mix it up with Coke or Pepsi too. Anything fizzy works, in my opinion.

 

wishful drinkingBook: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Drink: Shirley Temple
Considering this book is about alcoholism and drug addiction, an innocent Shirley Temple is the perfect virgin drink that will still pack a punch. The fruity and sweet flavours will complement Fisher’s spunky and witty style and will help to lighten the mood during some of the darker aspects of the book.

 

 

 

all the rageBook: All the Rage by Courtney Summers
Drink: Coffee (black)
This drink was selected in consideration of the dark themes in this novel. I also think that Romy shows incredible maturity for her age, and I imagine that this would be her drink of choice a few years down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

bureauBook: The Bureau of Holiday Affairs by Andi Marquette
Drink: Cinnamon Spice Latte
This book was so fun and saucy that I thought a cinnamon spice latte would be the absolute match. Feminine yet strong in flavour, this drink is the ideal representation of the characters sprinkled throughout the novel.

 

 

 

 

call the midwife 1Book: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
Drink: Tea with milk and sugar
This is a memoir written about the experiences of a midwife in the East End of London, England during the 1950s. OF COURSE tea is the perfect drink for it! The milk and sugar are important for making the drink sweet; the memoir has heavy moments but is overall incredibly warm and endearing.

 

the miniaturistBook: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Drink: Hot Chocolate
Nella, the main character of this novel, has a sweet tooth, and I just know that she would be caught sipping hot chocolate by the fire if given the chance. This book needed a warm drink because it, too, takes place in the wintertime, and the descriptions of the cold had me positively shivering. Hot chocolate would do all of its readers good!

December Book Haul

Boy, December kept me busy. On the plus side, I have a handful of new books that I’m looking forward to reading.

The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson
detective
I’m so excited to read this one. I’ve been reading this group of books out of order but I wouldn’t call it a series necessarily, so things still make sense. I can’t wait to post a review of it for you guys in the coming month. I’m sure it will be glowing!

 

 

 

 

 

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
chimney
I’m in the mid-beginning of this one, and while it started off promising, my interest in it is beginning to wan. Hopefully I’ll finish it up quickly though and be able to bring a review to you soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stolen Remains by Christine Trent
stolen remains
It takes place in the Victorian era and is a mystery novel. What more do I need to say? This is also a part of a series but my bookstore had not had the first book in stock for over a month, so I just grabbed the second. It seems as if they work as stand-alones, so that’s good.

 

 

 

 

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth
call the midwife
After reading the first in this series of memoirs (review here), I am so excited to dive into this next installment. I absolutely love Worth’s storytelling and I adore the show, so I know this book will just make me so happy.

 

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey: A Celebration by Jessica Fellowes, foreword by Julian Fellowes
downton
You guys, I am obsessed with this show, and so while I’m only finishing up season 4 as of today (no spoilers please!) I just had to have this book. I refuse to read it until I’m all caught up, as I don’t want to give anything away (though I already have trying to sneak a peek inside). Hence the fact that it is now sitting on my shelf where it will not be touched for the next little while.

 

I also received Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth, which I originally read as an eBook. I now have the physical copy which makes me very, very happy.

What books did you guys get over the holiday?

Happy reading!