Sunday, 17 October 2021

All about audiobooks...

I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a freshly-baked Zucchini Apple Muffin keeping me company on this windy, chilly morning, which definitely, finally feels like fall.  Speaking of apples and fall, I finished Liane Moriatry’s Apples Never Fall last weekend and, as I suspected, the ending didn’t WOW me. Oh well...

I’ve been unable to finish a book this week, as I tried a couple different titles that I borrowed from the library that didn’t hold my interest.  So rather than skip posting this week, I thought I could highlight some of the good audiobooks that I’ve listened to recently.  These almost always get neglected in my posts, so audiobooks, this one’s for you!

The first book I want to mention is A Tale for the Time Being by Canadian author Ruth Ozeki, who also narrated. I have to say that this was a phenomenal novel.  It was so good that I ended up buying a print copy and adding it to my book club list for next year.  Told from the point of view of two narrators, this novel spans the globe and takes us to Tokyo, where troubled teen Nao (pronounced “Now”) is contemplating suicide as the only escape from the bullying and loneliness that she is experiencing.  At her parents’ insistence, she spends the summer with her grandmother in a Buddhist temple high in the mountains and begins to find a connection to her past that may help her deal with her present struggles.  She also finds solace in her diary, where she refers to herself as a “time being”.  Travel across the Pacific and we find ourselves on a remote island off of the coast of British Columbia (I think the island was called Desolate), where Ruth, a middle-aged writer, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing these diaries washed up on the shore.  Ruth also struggles with loneliness and a lack of connection, and these diaries give her a project to work on, purpose to her days, and an opportunity to connect with others on the island and across the ocean.  This book is about so much more than what I’ve just written, I know I will never be able to do it justice.  But I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone, as it has a little bit of everything in it, history, romance, Buddhism, even quantum physics! 

Broken Girls by another Canadian author, Simone St James, tells the story of a journalist who uncovers the hidden past and dark secrets of an abandoned boarding school where unwanted girls were sent fifty years before.  I won’t give you a more detailed summary, but let’s just say that it was another interesting, well-written book by St James, with a more complex, darker plot than her previous books.  

Invisible girl is a recent novel by one of my favourite authors, Lisa Jewell.  In this complex, creepy and darkly disturbing book, social misfit Owen Pick lives in his aunt’s spare bedroom.  Across the street lives the Four family, whose teenaged daughter swears that Pick has been following her.  When Saffyre Maddox, a former patient of Roan Four, goes missing, Pick is the most likely suspect, but did he do it, or is someone else responsible for the missing “invisible” girl?  This psychological thriller certainly lived up to, and possibly even surpassed, my expectations.

The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman was a re-read for me, and it was on my “Best Reads of…” list for a reason.  Shifting between past and present, this novel tells the story of five childhood friends and the fateful night in 1979 that changed their lives forever.  I loved this suspenseful psychological coming-of-age novel, which was just as good the second time around.

And speaking of coming-of-age novels, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart also focused on a group of privileged teens who spend their summers on an island privately owned by one of the teens’ family.  But this summer is different for reasons that are slowly revealed throughout the novel.  Something has clearly happened, but what? And who, if anyone, is at fault?  This was another novel that deals with actions and their consequences, and I loved this one, too.

And finally, The Gown by Jennifer Robson (also Canadian) tells the story of Ann Hughes in 1947 post-war Britain, where news about the upcoming marriage between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip is a welcome distraction for a country that is rebuilding after the devastations wrought by the war.  Ann works on the famed wedding gown with French-immigrant Holocaust-survivor Miriam Dassin, who will eventually become a world-renowned artist.  Nearly 70 years later, Toronto journalist Heather Mackenzie comes across an intricately stitched fabric hidden in her recently deceased grandmother’s belongings.  As Heather tries to discover what this fabric, saved specifically for her, is meant to tell her, we are shifted back and forth between past and present as a connection is slowly revealed.  This was another interesting novel that weaves fact and fiction into a most engaging story.  Who knew the story about a gown could be so interesting?!

Hmmm, I see that there are a number of similarities in the storylines summarized above, and I notice that a number of these books are by Canadian authors, which is not a bad thing.  I guess I feel it’s my job to read and/or promote Canadian writers and Canadian literature.  In fact, I’m reading an interesting novel by a Canadian writer right now, Good Mothers Don’t by Laura Best, which I hope to tell you about next week.  

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the crisp fall day!

Bye for now…
Julie


Monday, 11 October 2021

Short post on a long weekend...

It is warm and sunny this morning, and the leaves on the trees and on the ground are brilliant shades of fall as we enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend.  I’ve got a steaming cup of Pu’Ehr Exotic tea and a delicious date bar to keep me company as I write this short post.

I’m nearly finished Liane Moriarty’s latest book, Apples Never Fall.  I was hoping to finish it last night as I made a large pot of applesauce (see the connection?!), but alas, I didn’t have quite enough time to get to the end.  I thought I could still write about it this morning and finish it later in the day.  This novel looks at the relationships between a newly retired couple and their four children.  At the beginning of the book, Joy Delaney goes missing from the house where she and her husband Stan live and where she raised her family.  She and Stan have recently sold their tennis school and are trying to come to terms with retirement and all the things that go along with that.  They seem to have a happy marriage, but of course, no marriage is perfect and there are usually secrets from the past that have been long-buried but that may come to the surface at the most inopportune times.  Such is the case with this family.  Their four children also have secrets and each has his or her own issues to deal with.  Amy struggles with mental health issues, Troy thinks he can solve anything with money, Logan is the favourite (or is he?), and Brooke has suffered migraines since childhood.  Can they come together and find out where Joy has gone and why?  And does her disappearance have anything to do with the strange young woman who showed up at their door the year before?  Sounds good, right?  I was so looking forward to reading this, but it took me quite some to get into the book, and even then, I’ve only been half-engaged with the characters and their stories.  It’s well-written, as are all Moriarty’s books, but something about this one seems to be missing for me.  Perhaps it’s because it only deals with one family and their problems, and so it lacks the usual complexity and interconnections. Or maybe it’s because so much of the story deals with tennis, about which I know nothing.  Anyway, I don’t think it’s her best book, but maybe the last 95 pages will redeem it in my eyes.  I’ll let you know next week if this happens.

Take care, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!  Hopefully you have much to be thankful for!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Book club highlights on a dreary October morning...

It’s rainy and humid outside right now, not the kind of weather that makes me feel energized, so if this post seems a bit sluggish, let’s just blame it on the weather!  

I had two book club meetings this past week.  My Friends Book Club met on Monday night to discuss The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This slow-moving exploration into the family dynamics of the Malegard family is set during the catastrophic Paris flooding in January 2018, and it is as much about the City of Light as it is about the family's relationships and secrets.  Paul and Lauren Malegard have invited their two adult children to Paris to celebrate Paul’s 70th birthday and their anniversary.  It is just to be the four of them, no spouses or children.  Planned far in advance, Lauren could never have anticipated the constant rain, the threat of the swelling water levels in the Seine and the disastrous effects this could have on their weekend.  World-famous son Linden has arrived from California, where he lives with his semi-secret boyfriend. Daughter Tilia has come over from Britain, leaving her drunken husband behind.  Paul is also famous around the world for his knowledge and passion for all things trees, while Lauren, an American who met Paul on a European trip with her sister Candice in their early 20s and never left, doesn’t seem to have anything for which she is renowned.  When Paul has a heart attack during their dinner, the family weekend stretches into weeks as the tensions surrounding Paul’s health and the elevating water levels rise.  Family secrets come to the surface as the reader is drawn into the maelstrom of the Malegards.  This was a great book club selection, as everyone enjoyed it for different reasons.  Some of us could relate to the dysfunctional family dynamics in the book, while others recollected trips to Paris and remembered the sights and sounds described by de Rosnay.  We talked about extreme weather and the immediate and long-term effects it can have on both places and people.  It was a short book that seemed longer, and while it was slow-moving, it demanded that readers savour the language, the narrative and the flow of the words and sentences and paragraphs.  It led to a very lively discussion that went off in all directions and explored many aspects of the novel.  I would highly recommend this as a book club selection, and also to anyone interested in reading a novel in which Paris is one of the main characters.

And my Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  Eleanor is a thirty-year-old woman working as an accounting clerk in a small graphic design firm in Glasgow.  She is highly intelligent and socially awkward, and she is clearly a survivor of some kind of traumatic past.  She structures her life around her workdays and her vodka weekends, which drag on interminably until Monday arrives once again.  When she fixates on the singer of a local band as the man whom she will someday marry, she begins to disregard her routines and step outside of her comfort zone, which leads to many unexpected changes in her life, some welcome and some less so.  This novel was also a successful book club selection, as it led to another lively discussion about loneliness, coping mechanisms, the importance of social connections and social networks, and how easily people can slip through the cracks and become invisible.  We discussed the importance of funding further education for children who are in the foster care system.  We pointed out that while this book explored heavy, dark topics, it was also filled with Eleanor’s wry humour and darkly funny commentary and observations.  Everyone loved the book, and I would also recommend this as a book club selection. 

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now…
Julie

Saturday, 25 September 2021

No post this week...

Good morning!  

I wanted to let you know that there will be no post this week, as I will be out walking to raise money for the KWSP Humane Society tomorrow:

https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/humane-society-kitchener-waterloo-stratford-perth/p2p/Paws-In-The-Park/#

A big "thank you" goes out to everyone who helped support this worthwhile fundraiser.  

I will return next weekend with a book club double-hitter.  

Take care, stay warm and keep reading!

Bye for now...
Julie 

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Last post for summer...

It’s a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, the last weekend of summer, and also the day of the Terry Fox Run where I live.  It’s also the day before the election and I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  At least I’ve got a strong cup of chai tea, a delicious date bar and a stack of books to console me if things go sideways.

I finished Lisa Jewell’s latest book last night, The Night She Disappeared, what she calls her “lockdown” book in the Afterward, and it did not disappoint.  One night in June 2017, nineteen year-olds Zach and Tallulah head to the pub in their village for a “date night”. They meet up with some friends and head over to the mansion that is home to Tallulah’s friend, Scarlett, and never make it home.  People in the village believe that they just ran away together, but Tallulah’s mother, Kim, knows this can’t be true because she’s sure they would never leave behind their eleven-month-old son Noah.  Kim refuses to give up searching for her daughter and trying to find out what happened that night.  In September 2018, Shaun and Sophie, the new head teacher and his girlfriend, arrive at the Maypole Academy from South London.  Sophie writes crime novels that “do well in Norway” and while she is meant to be working on a new book, she has been unable to write anything since the move to the countryside.  Having been told about the missing teens by a local woman, when she discovers a handwritten sign on the gatepost leading to the woods outside their cottage saying “Dig here”, she does just that.  What she discovers is enough to start the whole investigation up again with renewed purpose, and Kim encourages Sophie's interest and her keen eye for potential clues and inconsistencies.  I won’t say too much about the rest of the plot because one of the best things about Jewell’s novels is the slow but steady teasing out of details to bring the stories together, eventually coming to satisfying conclusions that answer all the questions without being too contrived.  Her characters are interesting and well-rounded and the style of her writing is conversational, making this reader feel that she’s just been told a really interesting story by a friend.  I particularly liked Sophie, and wondered how much of this character was based on Jewell herself.  Anyway, if you already read her books, you will not be disappointed in this one, and if you aren’t already a fan but enjoy mysteries that almost cross the line into domestic fiction (a bit like Liane Moriarty except gentler and in reverse), then I would highly recommend them.  

That’s all for today.  I want to still enjoy some more outdoor time before the humidity returns tomorrow and then the rain hits next week.  Goodbye summer…

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Late afternoon post...

I’ve been trying to beat the rain today by getting outside in the morning, so this post is later than usual.  I have no tea, but I’m enjoying a couple of treats as I try to get back into my routine.

I had a volunteer book club meeting yesterday.  Our book was Educated by Tara Westover, and it was a huge success.  This memoir tells of Westover's unusual upbringing in an isolated farm on the outskirts of a Mormon town in Idaho.  Her parents, particularly her father, were Mormon extremists focused on preparing for the End Times, and she and her six siblings were denied proper education and professional medical care.  They suffered neglect and abuse, and grew up in an environment of instability, violence and fear.  At sixteen, Tara managed to pass the entrance exam and enrolled in the local Mormon college, and from there, through scholarships and grants, as well as the support of church officials and professors, she went on to receive her BA from Cambridge.  She was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard, then she returned to Cambridge to complete her PhD.  While pursuing her education, she also had to come to terms with her loyalty to family members who opposed everything she was now embracing.  All the members of the book club were fascinated, shocked and horrified by her story, although a couple of us were skeptical about the accuracy of the information.  I wondered at her claims to have had no education before entering college, while another member thought she might have exaggerated the degree of neglect and abuse she experienced, mainly at the hands of her father, but also by her mother and one of her older brothers.  We all liked the conversational tone she used, and were left wondering how she (and her siblings!) survived.  We wondered at times what was true and not true, but understood that this represented her experiences, and that others may have experienced these events differently.  It was a book about the reliability of memory, of truth and experience, and of the will to survive at any cost.  Westover mentions her father’s mental health issues, but we thought she herself was probably bipolar, and the other members of her family likely had mental health issues as well.  At the end of the day, we saw this as the story of a young woman who was brought up in an isolated cult environment and managed to escape and make a life in the “real” world.  It was an excellent book club selection that I would highly recommend to just about anyone

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Lazy post on a long weekend...

I’m feeling lazy this weekend, enjoying the last chance to do a whole lot of nothing before school is back in earnest.  Actually, I’ve been pretty busy this weekend already but thought I should try to squeeze in a post this afternoon so that I leave all of tomorrow free to do… whatever. I'm going to try to get back into the weekly posting habit, but with so much great weather coming up, I can't guarantee that I will post faithfully every Sunday.

I read two books since my last post.  The first was a fabulous YA novel that I happened to get in a box of books I’d ordered in June for my school library.  They were delivered to my house a few weeks ago and this one caught my eye, Everything sad is untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri.  Not only is it a great title, but it’s also got a really interesting cover.  So I picked it up and was immediately sucked into this page-turner of a story.  Told in the form of The Thousand and One Nights (which I’ve never read), Iranian refugee Daniel (the main character) is Scheherazade, spinning tales not to her king/husband in order to save her life, but to his middle-school classmates in Oklahoma to help him explain his culture and fit into his new life.  And like Scheherazade, Daniel’s stories left this reader wanting more.  Weaving together myth, legend, memories and harsh reality, this is the story of Daniel’s experiences as he tries to make sense of his old life and make his way in this new environment in which he finds himself.  I can’t do this book justice, so I’ll choose to say little about it, except to highly recommend it to anyone from about ages 11+.  It is part memoir, part story-telling, an exploration into the difference between speaking and listening, and of course an homage to books and reading.  While it is based on Daniel (the author)’s experiences, it is considered fiction, not memoir.  I urge you to run, not walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up a copy of this excellent book today!

And I just finished an intense novel by Megan Abbot, The turnout, which was another page-turner, but in a totally different way.  Sisters Dara and Marie Durant have grown up with ballet.  Their mother was an accomplished ballerina and they, too, have achieved moderate success in this world.  But they have been running the Durant School of Ballet for years, since the death of their parents, and they still live in their childhood house, a huge old building full of cracks and drafts, with Dara’s husband and former ballet dancer Charlie.  There is obvious tension right from the opening pages, and this only grows as Marie moves out and the dynamics of their close-knit group shifts.  When a small fire in one of the studios occurs, Derek, a belligerent contractor, is hired to do some repairs.  But at his urging, Charlie, Dara and Marie agree to undertake more extensive upgrades.  What follows is a steady collapse into chaos and destruction, of the ballet school, the strained relationships between the members of the group, and within these individuals’ psyches.  What a roller coaster ride this was, an archaeological dig into the disturbing secrets of the Durant family, an intimate exploration of the relationships between family members and others who happen, by poor luck, to be involved with this family, as well as a deep-dive into the cutthroat world of ballet.  I have read something else by Abbot, I think it was a look at the world of competitive gymnastics, which was very good, and this one did not disappoint.  I think it helped that I used to take ballet lessons as a young girl, so many of the scenes were familiar, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to understanding and enjoying the book.  This one was more suspenseful than the gymnastics one, more focused on uncovering family secrets than on the actions of the youngsters’ families.  I think I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a detailed, well-researched look at the ballet world, as well as the slow uncovering of a nasty family history - be prepared to feel totally icky by the end!

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the lovely weather, and remember that there’s still another day to this weekend, so try to find time to pick up a good book.  Happy Labour Day!

Bye for now…
Julie