Sunday, 28 November 2021

On the joys of little free libraries...

It’s very early on this chilly Sunday morning.  There is a dusting of snow right now and more is expected to fall throughout the day.  Good thing I have my steaming cup of chai to keep me company as I begin this blog.

I finished reading a book that I found in one of the little free libraries that are everywhere these days.  It is something I would never have sought out in a public library for a couple of reasons.  First, it is non-fiction, which I hardly ever read.  Second, since the public library has so many books, I would probably never have chosen this, instead going for some other book that I thought would be more to my liking.  So it was serendipitous that I was at the right little free library (not one I normally go to) at the right time.  The book in question is The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer.  This memoir tells the story of how one Jewish woman from Vienna survived the Holocaust by becoming a “u-boat”, or a Jew hiding in German society.  Edith was just finishing up her law degree when the violence of Kristallnacht brought home the reality of Hitler’s terror.  She was expelled from the university and sent to work on a farm, then in a factory, and once she returned home, she realized that the only way to survive the growing threat of anti-Semitic laws and widespread hatred of the Jews was to assume a Christian identity and hope this deception was never discovered.  I can’t give away any more details, but let me tell you that this was one of those books that I just could not put down.  The story and the writing style grabbed me immediately and didn’t let go until the very last page, which I turned, hoping for one more chapter.  The conversational tone, as though she were telling her story over a cup of coffee, really made this story accessible.  She wasn’t out to teach a lesson, only to convey her story so others could understand what she and many others went through in order to survive.  I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in WWII history and memoirs, especially women’s stories.  

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

Bye for now…

Sunday, 21 November 2021

A very short post on a very November day...

I love November.  I love seeing the bare branches with just a few brightly coloured leaves still clinging to them.  I love that you can see the cardinals flitting around in the bare bushes.  I love the crispness of the air and the way this always makes me feel invigorated.  I love that we change the clocks back to regular time so the mornings are brighter. I love that there are often days in November when the weather is perfect for reading.

Alas, I did not have time to read this past week, as I was hosting a Scholastic Book Fair in my library and had two Family Night events, as well as a Friends Book Club meeting on Monday.  I look forward to this coming week, when things will hopefully get a bit more back to normal.

I thought I would quickly talk about Tana French, as I am re-listening to one of her books, The Trespasser, as an audiobook.  I love her books in the “Dublin Murder Squad” series, as well as her standalone novel, The Witch Elm.  Her “Murder Squad” books take place in, you guessed it, Dublin! where an elite squad of detectives try to solve complex murders.  These psychological murder mysteries are interesting because they don’t feature the same cast of characters in each book, such as the “Detective Alan Banks” series by Peter Robinson.  Rather, in the first book, In the woods, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox pair up to solve a murder that may be connected to a cold case.  The next book features Cassie and veteran detective Frank Mackey.  The following book focuses on Frank Mackey and follows what I assume is the pattern by introducing another detective with whom Mackey works that will then be the main detective in the next book, and so on and so on.  I find this “chain” pattern to be more interesting than just having the same main character leading the team of police to solve the mysteries, since just as much of the novels I’ve read so far have been taken up with the development of characters and relationships as with the actual criminal investigations.  Her books have won many awards, and I can completely understand why.  They are very complex and “meaty” (to use a non-vegetarian term), so while I have the second book in the series on my shelf upstairs, one I haven’t read yet, I am putting off reading it until I have a good solid chunk of time to really sit and read and appreciate the character development, the psychological aspects of the book, the relationships between characters, and the absorbing writing style.  I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys gritty British mysteries (even though these are Irish) or psychological thrillers.

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

Bye for now…

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Post on a cold, rainy November morning...

It’s cold and windy and it’s just started to rain (turning to snow later this afternoon), so it’s a perfect day for writing about books and reading them, too!  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread to help me through this rather miserable fall day.

My Friends Book Club will be meeting virtually (due to rising covid cases) tomorrow night to discuss Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours.  Told from the points of view of Avery Stafford and Rill Foss, this novel tells the story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the horrific practices that went on from the 1930s to the 1950s and the blind eyes that were turned to allow them to continue.  Avery is a young woman whose family is steeped in US politics. Her side of the story is set in present day and begins with her and her father attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies and press conferences in Tennessee.  Her father is ill and she has returned home to help out, while also being groomed to take his place in the US Senate in the event of his decline, despite having a successful law practice in Washington.  Her fiancé is also her childhood friend whose family remains close to the Staffords.  Both mothers are eager to set a date and begin wedding plans, but the couple keep putting things off for one reason or another.  When Avery attends an event with her father at a Retirement Home celebrating a resident’s 100th birthday, an elderly woman approaches and clutches her arm, claiming to recognize her and commenting on her dragonfly bracelet, an heirloom from her grandmother.  This brief interaction marks the beginning of Avery's journey in her quest to find out who the woman is and what her connection might be to her Grandma Judy.  Rill’s story begins in 1939 on a riverboat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi River where she, her three sisters and her brother live with Briny and Queenie, their father and mother.  Queenie is in labour and it is not going well.  When Briny reluctantly takes Queenie to the hospital in Memphis, on the advice of the midwife, some corrupt police officers come and take the children away and deliver them to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, run by Georgina Tann and Mrs Murphy.   Since Rill is twelve years old and the eldest child in the Foss family, she was given responsibility by Briny to take care of her brother and sisters, but she can do nothing to save them from the cruelty, neglect and brutality of the Home.  These children and many others were housed, or should I say “warehoused”, in a network of orphanages in deplorable conditions with the plan to sell them under the guise of adoption to wealthy families, families that were often blackmailed afterwards and forced to pay huge sums to Tann to keep their dirty little secret.  Rill's sections of the book focus on her attempts to save herself and her siblings and return to the Arcadia and to their parents. The two stories eventually came together and, along with the author's note at the back of the book, answered all of this reader's questions. This was an interesting book dealing with a topic I knew nothing about, and it was a real page-turner, as I really wanted to know what happened next and how things ended up for both Rill and Avery.  I may write more about this next week if there are things I want to highlight from our discussion, but I’m guessing everyone in my group enjoyed it.  It really called into question the notion of Nature vs Nurture, and whether children are better off being raised in poverty by biological parents or in relative comfort by adoptive parents.  I would recommend this book if you like reading about these types of stories, especially ones based on real events, or if you have read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train

That’s all for today.  Take care, stay warm, and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Quick post on a long-ish weekend...

You’d think that, with the extra hour we got today because of the clocks going back, I’d be more on top of things, but alas, I’ve managed to overbook my hour and now it’s late afternoon on a gorgeously golden day and I’ve still got plenty more to do before I rest., so this will, once again, be a short post.

My Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Yann Martel’s amazing book, Life of Pi, and everyone loved it.  This book tells the story of sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper in India in the 1970s.  When the Patels decide to emigrate to Winnipeg, they board a ship with some of their animals that are being delivered to other zoos, but tragedy strikes and the ship sinks, with Pi being the lone survivor… except for a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger.  Pi must manage his own “zoo” on the small lifeboat and hopefully save himself and as many animals as possible.  His days at sea are both monotonous and adventurous, and packed with details about his survival skills and his interactions with Richard Parker, the tiger who is his constant companion.  This book is about so much more than I can summarize here that I will just say that it was a fabulous reread for me and a real adventure for my book club members who have never read it before.  They commented that it was a “unique story”, that “everything was unexpected”, and that they “didn’t know where (the story) was going from minute to minute”.   They found the characters fascinating, and they wondered how Martel knew so much about the psychology of animals.  It was a book about zoology and theology, politics and human-animal connections.  We discussed the ending at length and, while I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll just say that we all liked the story about Pi and Richard Parker better than the other one.  If you haven’t already read this Booker Prize-winning novel, I would strongly recommend that you give it a try.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the lovely mild fall weather.

Bye for now…

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Another quick post...

It’s late afternoon on Halloween and I’ve got a treat for myself, a Date Bar and cup of Mulled Apple Cider, no tricks required.  I will briefly tell you about the books I’ve started over the past week, but that’s as much as I can offer. My friend read my blog post about audiobooks and was intrigued by the description of A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, so he read it and loved it.  He asked if I’d read her newest book, The Book of Form and Emptiness and I said no, that I had it but haven’t had time to read it.  I started reading the three library books I picked up last weekend but none of them grabbed me so I thought, what the heck!  I only have four days before I have to start my next book club book, and The Book of Form and Emptiness is nearly 600 pages, but why not start it right now?  So I did… and I was sucked in immediately.  I want to say that, so far, Benny is a less intriguing character than Nao, but the writing and observations and the way things are expressed are so very… Ozecki, that I think I’m going to love it!  Alas, I’m less than a fifth of the way in and now I must wait two weeks until I can continue reading it, as I have two book club meetings back-to-back.  *sigh* But on the plus side, the book my group is discussing next Saturday is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which I’ve read before but I’ve forgotten what a truly wonderful book it is.  I just started it last night, and I was so very impressed with his expressions and his brilliant use of language.  Actually, Ozeki and Martel (at least Life of Pi) are similar in that they use language simply but fully, with expressions that are deeply meaningful.  I think it’s going to be a good reading week.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have a Happy Halloween!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Late afternoon post...

Ive got to start thinking about getting ready for work tomorrow, but I wanted to get this post done today instead of waiting until next week (by then I might have forgotten what I read or what it was about!)

I finished Good Mothers Don’t by East Coast author Laura Best.  This is her first novel for adults and it was mostly very good.  Elizabeth McKay is a wife and mother in rural Nova Scotia in 1960.  She has a great husband and two lovely children, so what could be wrong, and why does she behave strangely so often?  Turns out that she has mental health issues that significantly impact her ability to care for her family… and herself.  When things get worse after her father’s death, she is sent to a psychiatric hospital, where she undergoes treatments and therapies to help her “get well”.  Fifteen years later, she is living in a group home and doesn’t remember much about her past, but she hangs on to the five words that are the key to opening the door as she struggles to learn her “truth”.  Told from various points of view and shifting from past to present, this novel explores isolation and connection, mental health issues and treatments in the 1960s, and what it means to be family.  I loved this book until about two thirds of the way through, but found that the ending, at least for me, was a bit flat. I guess I was expecting more, or not necessarily “more”, but maybe “different”.  Anyway, it was a good book, well-written, with believable characters, exploring serious topics, so I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in domestic fiction.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the lovely fall weather and stay dry this coming week!

Bye for now…

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…