Sunday, 25 September 2016

Short post on a sunny Sunday morning...

I’ve just pulled freshly-made pop-overs out of the oven, so the scent of melted butter and cheese is in the air… mmm!!!  I hope they’re good, as this is the first time I’ve made them.  I’m waiting until they cool down a bit before I add one to the chai tea on the table in front of me.

I am nearly finished reading The Illegal by Lawrence Hill for my Friends’ Book Group meeting tomorrow night.  I didn’t think I’d have a chance to finish it in time, and still get to my next Volunteer Book Club book, The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. in time for our meeting on Saturday.  This is the problem with booking your book club meetings too close together, the pressure to finish in time and to have a chance to think about the book before the meeting.  There was also the problem of such a short turnaround time between Volunteer Book Club meetings, just three weeks instead of the usual four weeks.  Anyway, I’m nearly finished and will hopefully have time today to finish that one and start on the next one too.  The Illegal tells the story of Keita Ali, a young man from Zantoroland whose whole life revolves around running.  His sister, Charity, has the brains, but Keita has the legs and the stamina.  At this politically turbulent time, in the near-future, when blacks are being deported from Freedom State to Zantoroland, where they are also being turned away or sometimes executed, Keita’s father, Yoyo, is imprisoned and then executed for writing articles damning the government over policies and practices.  When Charity also disappears, Keita signs on with a sports agent to get entered into races in order to raise enough money to find his sister.  He then escapes from his agent and goes running across Freedom State, always trying to keep a low profile because he is black with no citizenship papers for Freedom State and so considered an “illegal” - if caught, he would surely be deported back to Zantoroland and killed.  Along the way, he meets a variety of interesting characters, including a black, gay paraplegic journalist named Viola Hill, a smart, sassy, gifted student from AfricTown named John Falconer, Ivernia Beech, an elderly but wealthy white woman who supports Keita and helps out whenever she can, and Cadance, a beautiful police officer and fellow marathoner.  Together they assist Keita in his struggle to remain free long enough to win enough races to earn the money to free his sister from those who are holding her hostage.  It’s a good book, not one I would have picked up on my own, but definitely fast-paced and interesting, but I’m not really sure what this book is supposed to be.  Is it a dystopian novel?  An exploration of the consequences when society turns a blind eye to the struggles of undocumented refugees?  Although the description of the book sounded like it would take a serious look at what it means to be “illegal”, I found that the book was very “light”, almost humourous in parts, and that I couldn’t consider Keita’s quest in earnest.  I guess I don’t read many satires, which is probably why I’m having a hard time pinpointing what this book is really supposed to be doing.  I like straightforward books: if it’s supposed to be funny, then write in a humourous way;  if an author wants to criticize society, then write a proper dystopian novel.  This book is kind of a hybrid of both. My initial reaction was that it was too "obvious", that it lacked subtlety, that Hill was trying to be clever in this book, but did not manage to be quite clever enough. As I got into it, my initial thoughts didn't change but I found myself swept up in the story and the characters and realized I was enjoying it in spite of myself.  I’ll see how I feel once I finish it, and will let you know what the other book club members thought of it after the meeting tomorrow.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the glorious sunshine and the cool fall day!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Book talk on the last weekend of summer...

It’s officially over, the first day of fall is Thursday September 22nd. So while we still have a few days left, which, according to the forecast, are definitely going to feel like summer, by the time I write my next post, it will be autumn, my favourite season of the year.  

I have two books to tell you about this week, both recent Canadian publications.  The first is the much-talked-about thriller, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.  This debut novel opens with Anne and Marco Conti attending a dinner party to celebrate next door neighbour Graham’s birthday, a party thrown by Graham’s wife Cynthia.  Anne and Marco have left their six-month old daughter Cora home alone after the last-minute cancellation of their babysitter.  Against her better judgement, Anne agrees to attend the party, despite worrying about leaving Cora alone.  Anne is suffering from post-partum depression, and her worry is exacerbated by gorgeous Cynthia’s blatantly flirtatious behaviour with Anne’s decidedly attractive husband.  They have scheduled to go back and check on Cora every half-hour, taking turns in this duty, but Anne feels terrible, wondering “What kind of parents leave their six-month old home alone to go to a party?”  When they finally return home, they face every parent’s worst nightmare - Cora’s cot is empty.  They frantically search the house, and finally have to admit that she is gone.  They contact the police and Detective Rasbach arrives with his team of investigators.  Unfortunately, they find no trace of a break-in and have no leads.  Anne calls her parents, mega-rich Alice and her husband, Richard, Anne’s step-father.  Her parents have never liked Marco, and this dislike only manifests itself more strongly as the investigation progresses.  What follows is a roller-coaster ride of plot twists as the characters’ personalities, histories and relationships are explored and outward appearances are shattered.  I don’t want to give too much of this book away, which means I can’t let you in on any of the details, but let me just say that no one is above suspicion and nothing is as it seems.  I have heard this book compared to Gone Girl and  Girl on a Train, but I can’t comment on that as I haven’t read either one.  I did, however, find that this novel had many similarities to The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison.  Both novels dealt with couples who, on the surface, seem to have it all, but whose characters and relationships deteriorate as the truth is revealed.  Both depend on unreliable narrators, and both use writing styles that, for this reader, created a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Harrison’s book was far deeper and more complex than Lapena’s novel, but I think that Lapena shows promise and definitely has talent in creating suspense.  It was certainly a book that I couldn’t put down.  I would give it 7.5 out of 10, and will watch for future novels by this author.

And I finished Winnipeg author David Bergen’s latest novel, Stranger, recently as well.  This novel tells the story of Iso Perdido, a young Guatamalan woman who works at a fertility clinic in the mountain village of Ixchel.  She is in a romantic relationship with one of the American doctors, Eric Mann, who loves to ride his motorcycle through the mountains.  When Eric’s estranged wife Susan arrives at the clinic, Iso is assigned to be her keeper, and must work with Susan throughout the extensive and extremely intimate fertility process.  When Iso, not Susan, becomes pregnant, things get complicated, and become more complicated still when Eric is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and is taken home to America by his wife.  Things get worse when Iso, while disoriented and in labour, signs forms allowing the Manns to take custody of the child, who is removed barely one day after her birth.  What follows is Iso’s journey to reclaim her daughter and return her to her rightful land and family.  I’ve never been a big fan of Bergen’s books, and have possibly read one years ago, I think The Time In Between, and this book was exactly what I expected. It got great reviews in The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it, but I can be honest in my blog:  this book did nothing for me.  Yes, it was beautifully written and evoked a real sense of “paradise” in the descriptions of Ixchel, the lake and surrounding mountains (Iso’s full name is Paraiso Perdido, or “Paradise Lost”), but I found it to be too surreal, too dystopian and even (dare I say it?) too obvious in its symbolism.  What was lacking, in my opinion, was depth of character.  Divisions of class and disparity between wealth and poverty are all explored, but so clearly was everything in this book presented as either black or white that it didn’t inspire this reader to think about and ponder the situations.  While reading this, I was reminded of that excellent novel, The Colonial Hotel by Jonathan Bennett, that I read and reviewed for the local paper a couple of years ago, and in my opinion, Bennett's novel was just so much better. I would give this book a 6 out of 10, but that only reflects my personal experience.

The sun is coming out and dispelling the fog of the morning, so it’s time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.  Have a great day and Happy End-of-Summer!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Books and tea on a gorgeous Sunday morning...

It is so bright and refreshing this morning, not a hint of humidity in the air, as I sip my chai tea and think about our book club discussion yesterday.

Yesterday my volunteer book group met to discuss The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss author Joël Dicker.  This is a book I reviewed for the local newspaper when the English translation was first released in Canada in May 2014.  Here is a link to that review: I also wrote about this in March, 2014, so here is my summary from that post:  “Marcus Goldman is a young New York writer with a bestseller under his belt, achieved before he turned 30.  Facing prolonged writer’s block, he turns to his friend and mentor, writer Harry Quebert, for support, and is invited out to Harry’s seaside home in Somerset for some R&R.  Shortly thereafter, Harry is arrested for the murder of Nola Kellergen, a young girl who has been dead for over 30 years, and whose body has recently been discovered buried in Harry’s back yard.  Marcus returns to Somerset in order to support Harry and to find the truth about what happened that night so many years ago, as well as the events leading up to Nola’s murder.  He discovers that during the summer of 1975, 34-year old Harry fell in love with 15-year old Nola, and planned to leave town with her at the end of the summer.  He also discovers that Nola, and Harry’s forbidden love for her, were the inspiration for Harry’s career-defining novel, The Origin of Evil.  As Marcus investigates people and events in and around Somerset in 1975, he uncovers truths and cover-ups that lead him deeper and deeper into a world he could never have imagined.”   I clearly loved this novel, but as I reread it, I wondered, as I always do, whether my book club ladies would like it.  When I got to the meeting, there were a couple members already there, and even as we entered the meeting room, discussion of the book and the characters had already started (and a very animated conversation it was, too!)  When everyone had arrived, we went around the table as we usually do to find out what people thought of the book.  Well, I worried for nothing, as everyone loved the book!  Some members said they got a copy from the library and were daunted by the size of the book (over 600 pages), but that it sucked them in right away and they couldn’t put it down.  Another member thought that it was a bit overlong, and that the sections describing Harry’s and Nola’s feelings for each other were a bit excessive and could have used some editing (I had to agree with that).  But in general, everyone enjoyed it.  One member described Harry as “despicable”, and pointed out that there were many controlling women in the book:  Marcus’ mom, Tamara, and Nola, in particular.  Another member felt that the relationships and interactions between Marcus and his mother, his agent, and the lead investigator, Gahalowood, were humourous, and that this comic relief offered a good balance for the seriousness of the investigation, whose subject matter was quite dark.  She also pointed out that there were many “red herrings”, and another member agreed, stating that the author led you down “many rabbit holes”.  One member read a quotation from the book about how Marcus became “Marcus the Magnificent”, that it was all about creating appearances, and that she thought that summed up the entire book, and we all agreed.  We talked about the use of repetition in the book, that Dicker used a format that offered many different versions of the same events from different points of view, all in an effort to find “the truth”, but that the truth is different for everyone.  We discussed “age of consent” and how this has changed over time, in different countries around the world, and in different types of relationships.  I wondered whether a 34-year-old man could, in fact, be in love with a 15-year-old girl, and the group pointed out that Harry had, until his move to Somerset, been a high school teacher, so he would already have been able to relate to his students and to develop a rapport with people of that age group, which I hadn’t thought of.  I guess I had a hard time remembering that, at the time of his relationship, he was only in his mid-30s, that I kept seeing him as the 67-year-old recluse.  We talked about the relationship between Harry and Nola, and wondered whether it was ever consummated - we thought not, but it was never made clear.  Someone else pointed out that Nola behaved toward Harry in an alternately flirtatious and maternal way, which turns out to be significant based on her psychological state as revealed by the end of the book, something I didn't pick up on at all during either of my readings. All in all, we felt that it was cleverly written and that the author used literary techniques to keep the reader guessing until the very last, tongue-in-cheek page.  We thought it would be a good idea to all go to see the movie together when it comes out.  I would give this book a 10 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a literary mystery, a book that explores the reality of life in a small town, or the writer’s life.  Note:  If you decide to read it, please don’t skip the Acknowledgements at the end.  

And I finished listening to an audiobook that was in great demand, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  This novel opens with the declaration that on May 3, 1977, Lydia Lee is dead.  The rest of the novel explores the lives of the Lee family to determine how the eldest daughter ended up drowned in the small lake in the centre of their community.  The father, James, is the son of a struggling Chinese immigrant family, and blond, blue-eyed mother Marilyn is as “all-American” as you can get.  At the time, their marriage is unprecedented, and Ng follows their lives leading up to Lydia’s death.  It was a bestseller when it came out in 2014, so I was quite excited to finally have access to the audiobook through the library.  But I was somewhat disappointed with this listening experience, despite being an award-winning book.  I think it was the style of the narration that put me off - it was read very slowly and expressively, which tended to drag out the story.  I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the book instead of listening to it.  I also wonder whether the fact that I listened to much of this book, about an unhappy teen, at the same time as reading All the Rage, about an unhappy teen, influenced my ability to appreciate the book as a separate entity. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it, so let’s just say that my personal experience failed to live up to my expectations.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the glorious sunshine!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Short post on a long weekend...

On this last long weekend of the summer, I’m sipping my regular tea on Sunday evening after a wonderful day outdoors and am appreciating the perfect weather we’ve had recently.  Too bad my recent reading experience has not been quite so perfect.

I was so excited to get notification from the library that my hold for Liane Moriarty’s latest book, Truly, Madly, Guiltily was ready for pick-up.  I almost bought a copy of this title at Coles earlier in the week, but it was a hardcover, and I prefer trade paperbacks - I told myself to be patient, that I would be going to the library on Saturday to pick it up.  Well, good thing I convinced myself to wait, because I just could not get into this book.  If you recall, I’ve loved the last few books by this author, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, and this novel started out much the same as the others… some event has occurred that has significantly affected the relationships of the characters in the book, but this event is kept from the reader, meted out in alternating chapters, a bit of a “before and after” strategy.  Three couples are featured prominently in this storyline:  mousy accountant Erika and her equally "male-version mousy" husband Oliver are friends with successful cellist Clementine and her attractive husband Sam, and Oliver’s and Erika’s neighbours, larger-than-life Vid and his stunningly gorgeous wife Tiffany, become involved with the group after an impromptu invitation to a Sunday afternoon BBQ.  We the reader know something significant happened at the BBQ, but in customary fashion, Moriarty strings us along with clues and tidbits, while also letting us in on what is happening at the present time.  I have loved this in previous books, and have marveled at how well she is able to keep everything straight, keeping us in suspense while revealing just enough information to keep us interested.  But this book just was not doing anything for me, for a couple of reasons:  Erika in this book was too much like Jane in Big Little Lies, both in looks and in character.  And I felt that the storyline was also too similar to both previous titles.  I thought at first that perhaps I wasn't able to get into the book because I’ve been distracted, since it was the first week back to work after the summer holidays, but then I read a NY Times review of this book and found myself agreeing with everything the reviewer had written about rehashed stories and lack of depth regarding characters’ relationships.  So I brought it back to the library unfinished, since others were waiting for it and I had no time to finish before getting to my next book club book.  So if this is your first time reading Liane Moriarty’s work, you may find it OK, or you may think “What is everyone raving about?  She’s not that great!”  If I had to recommend a title to start with, I would say read The Husband’s Secret first then Big Little Lies (a much darker story, but still hilarious).  I guess if I had purchased this title, I would have been able to put it down unfinished to read my other book, then would have gone back to it later - it was not so bad that I wouldn’t have finished it, it just did not meet my admittedly high expectations.  

That’s all for tonight.  Enjoy the holiday tomorrow, whatever you do, and don’t forget to keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Tea and books on a muggy, "end of summer" morning...

As I sip my steeped chai tea, I am lamenting the passage of time, and the end of summer holidays.  I’m excited to get back to school, as there are so many books I want to read and recommend to the students, so many displays to create, and so many "next steps" to take in turning my school libraries into Learning Commons, but I also still have so much to do at home to get even more organized, so this time of year feels rather bittersweet.  

It’s fitting, then, that I have a book to tell you about that is all about time, The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt.  This delightful middle school novel tells the story of Penelope, whose first day of summer vacation is planned out in fifteen-minute increments by her mother, an event planner who won’t leave a minute unscheduled.  But Penelope wants time to daydream and come up with ideas for the stories she plans to write, activities that really can’t be planned, you have to just let them happen and be ready to capture them with notebook and pen.  When she finds that one day in her mother’s planner has been accidentally overlooked and there is nothing planned for that day, she seizes the opportunity to maximize her good fortune and goes to visit her friend down the street, Miss Maddie, who, unlike her mother, encourages daydreaming and sitting idly over cups of tea.  Something strange happens when she shows Miss Maddie the blank page, and Penelope ends up in a strange land, the Realm of Possibilities, where time is unimportant, and moodling (“daydreaming, letting your mind wander, losing track of time and doing nothing”) is encouraged.  She meets Dill, a very tall thin man with wild red hair who informs her that the Realm is being overtaken by Chronos, a man who insists that everyone’s lives, all the Clockworkers, are ruled by the tick-ing and tock-ing of the clocks that are everywhere in his City, the city he plans to expand into the Realm.  The only way to stop this expansion is to find the Great Moodler, who has been exhiled to regions unknown by Chronos ages ago.  Dill and Penelope set out to find the Great Moodler, and along the way they befriend Coo-Coo, a bird whose home on the mountain is in danger of being swallowed up by the City as well.  They are captured by Chronos’ police and sent to jail for wasting time while idling at an intersection.  There they meet the Fancies, who will become instrumental in their escape plans.  But can they get out and find the Great Moodler before the entire Realm of Possibilities is swallowed up by the Shadow of Doubt that looms over Chronos’ City?  This debut novel is an adventure tale full of wit and whimsy, and Britt uses many puns and plays on words that kept me turning pages until I reached a satisfying conclusion.  I was thinking that it would be a great readaloud for the grade 4 classes at my schools, or at the very least, I will promote it in a book talk.  It was like Alice Wonderland meets The Wizard of Oz, with a hint of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys delightful fantastical allegories.  I would give it a rating of 8 out of 10.

And I’m nearly finished a book that is the opposite of delightful, All the Rage by Courtney Summers, a Young Adult novel that I will not be putting in my library, as the contents are too mature for the grade levels at my schools, but will be passing on to one of the high school librarians at our PD Day next week.  This novel is set in a small town and tells the story of Romy, a 17-year old who had friends, got decent grades, had a good job, and lived a normal life… until a year ago, when she got drunk at a party and Kellan Turner, the town sheriff’s son, takes advantage of her against her will.  When she tells her story, no one but her family believes her, and she loses everything; her former friends shun her, she becomes withdrawn, and she loses any connection she had with anyone - she won’t even confide in her mother.  When she meets Leon, a guy she works with at the restaurant, things begin to look up, but then it all goes bust when, against her better judgement, she goes out to Wake Lake for the big drunken bash that happens every year for the seniors at the high school.  She doesn’t remember anything from that night, but is found the next morning by a police constable on the side of the road miles away from the lake, seemingly hung over and in a bad way.  Another girl, beautiful, perfect Penny Young, Romy’s former best friend, also went missing after the party, and Romy is accused of wasting police time searching for her when the whole force should have been looking for Penny.  As Penny’s disappearance turns into days and then weeks, Romy’s suspicions grow and she is faced with a dilemma - repeat her story from a year ago in the hopes that someone will listen, an act that may help find Penny alive, or stay quiet and bear the guilt of knowing she could have helped but didn’t.  I’ve got about 80 pages to go in this harrowing tale, and so far there has not been a single uplifting moment, but it’s gripping and heartwrenching, filled with a hopelessness and despair that is captured brilliantly by the author.  Most of the time that I was reading this, I was thinking in my head, “Just tell someone what it happening to you, tell someone how you are being treated!”, but of course, I know that won’t happen.  I hope that this does not reflect the lives of most teenaged girls today, although I’m sure it happens, which is the reason so many sexual assaults go unreported.   I’m looking forward to finishing this book today, as I suspect there may be a glimmer of hope awaiting Romy by the end of the novel.  It’s reminding me of that classic YA novel, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, also about a girl who is raped by an older student at a summer bash.  I read that many years ago, and am now interested in rereading it.  Although I haven’t finished  All the Rage, I feel confident in giving it a rating:  8 out of 10.  Read this if you are drawn to YA novels that deal with traumatic experiences and learning to overcome the emotional aftermath.  Do not read this if you are looking for a light, uplifting “summer read”.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

Bye for now…

PS I've added a tentative Book Club selection list for 2017 (see righthand sidebar), but I'll run the choices by my ladies when we meet in September to see if they approve - watch for changes.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Tea and books on a marvelous Monday afternoon...

I’m so thrilled to be able to write this post on a gloriously clear, bright Monday afternoon after a great bike ride and errand-running this morning… alas, it is my last such opportunity until next summer, as I go back to work next week.  *Sigh*  Good thing I love my job, and look forward to the challenges a new school year will bring!

I finished reading This Godforsaken Place by Cinda Gault last night.  This novel is set in the Canadian wilderness and the United States in the late 1800s, and tells the story of Abigail Peacock, a young woman who accompanies her father on a journey from London, England to Wabigoon, Ontario to start a new life after her mother passes away.  She attempts to embrace the adventure for her father’s sake, yet she despairs over her wretched life and cringes at the bleak opportunities her future holds.  The attentions of the steadfast, stalwart store owner begin to wear down her defenses, and as her opportunities seem narrow and uninviting, she resigns herself to a dull, dreary life as teacher and wife in a convenient marriage… until she discovers a love for shooting.  This changes her life, and as one situation leads to another, Abigail finds herself travelling on horseback to the US and joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with the likes of legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, all in an effort to fulfill the wishes of a dead man.  All of this is set against the backdrop of Louis Riel and the North-West Rebellion.  OK, so this was one of the books I was going to read for the awards’ committee I’m on, but it sounded so much like something I would never want to read that I thought I’d read a few pages and set it aside, but it was amazing!!  The main character, Abigail, was strong, opinionated, witty and intelligent.  The historical setting was interesting and the writing was superb.  The story itself was pretty far-fetched, and I had to suspend my sense of disbelief for most of the novel, but the writing and Abigail’s character held my attention and made this reading experience a memorable one.  Unfortunately, the last quarter of the book became a bit muddled and lost some of the flare that kept my attention up to that point, and the ending was rather disappointing (even if it did include a posse!).  Still, any book that can include the words “dastardly” and “calamity” and get away with it has to have some merit!  I want to share a short passage with you that demonstrates how intelligent the female characters are and how sharp the writing is.  Abigail is speaking with Annie Oakley over a pot of coffee early on in their relationship.  When asked why she left teaching, Abigail states, “I want to become something I have never been.”  
Annie: “You aren’t satisfied with who you are?”
Abigail: “Who I am has changed.”  
Annie: “That sounds odd to me.  I have never changed.  Quite the contrary, I generally have to fight to go on being who I am.”  
Out of context this may not seem as significant as it did for me while reading the book, but I thought it was brilliant.  I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10 - the rating would have been higher if the ending wasn’t so disappointing.  Despite that, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with strong female characters who are smart and witty.  Actually, thinking about this now, Abigail’s character reminds me a bit of the main character in Nick Hornby’s novel Funny Girl, about Sophie Straw, a young woman who leaves a decidedly dull future in a small British town in the 1960s and moves to London, where she pursues her dream of becoming a female comedian on TV.  Both are well-written, if flawed, books with strong female characters, if that’s what you are in the mood for right now.

And I’ll tell you briefly about the audiobook I’m nearly finished listening to, A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch.  This historical mystery is one of the books in the “Charles Lenox” series, and is set in Victorian era England.  Once again, not my usual cup of tea (no pun intended!), but it’s surprisingly interesting, perhaps because it doesn’t dwell on exhaustively descriptive details about the setting or the costume of the characters, but rather focuses more on the interaction between characters and the development of the investigation.  This novel finds Lenox married and with a small daughter, Sophie, pursuing a career as an MP, having left the life of gentleman and amateur detective behind.  Taking the opportunity to leave London for a break while he prepares his speech for the House of Commons, he travels with his wife and daughter to the village of Plumley to stay with his uncle Frederick at the peaceful Everley estate.  He is drawn back into his former role as detective when a rash of petty vandalisms turn to murder during his stay and he is asked to help solve the crime and bring the murderer to justice.  This cozy mystery is gentle and engaging, and far better than I had expected, so I was happy to discover that it was part of a series, giving me plenty of other mysteries to read or listen to.  Though not quite finished, I feel confident in rating this one - I’d give it a 7 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries or cozy British mysteries.

That’s all for today.  Happy reading!

Bye for now…

PS Looking back on some of my recent posts, I've noticed alot of *sigh*-ing going on... is it because this summer has been so busy that I've barely had time to do any reading, and have not come close to completing everything on my "to-do" list? Or could it be a reflection of a different attitude or mental state when faced with plenty of time off and a string of hot humid days, a deep intake of breath followed by a long, slow exhalation? I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure the extra sighing means something... on that note, I'll close with yet another *sigh*... until next week.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Post for the "dog days" of summer...

We’ve certainly had plenty of hot, sultry days this summer, but I believe that this week was the longest stretch of hot days with high humidity so far.  Thank goodness I have air conditioning and a huge pile of books to read!  And, to keep me busy inside when it’s been too hot to go out, I also got a couple of new bookshelves from IKEA, and have transformed one area in the spare bedroom into a wall of books - it’s like a dream come true!  I have plenty of bookshelf space now, but the challenge is trying to decide how to arrange my books - do I group them by country, by genre, or alphabetically by author?  It’s been fun working on it a bit each day and handling books that have been on my shelf for years that I’ve never read and have nearly forgotten about - I’m discovering so many great novels to read right in my own collection!  I’m also copying my list of books read from 1992-2010 into a new notebook, as my original spiral notebook is falling apart, and it’s been interesting looking at my reading choices when I was so much younger and noticing patterns and cycles.  I’m only up to January, 1998, but I have high hopes that I will finish before I go back to work.  

I’ll be away next week in the gorgeous Georgian Bay area, so I thought I should write my post now, as I have two books and an audiobook to tell you about.  The first book is The Hatching by Canadian novelist Ezekiel Boone (a pseudonym for novelist Alexi Zentner, from right here in Kitchener-Waterloo).  OK, so right from the title, this book sounds ominous, right?  Well, let me tell you, it was creepy, creepy, creepy, right to the very last page... and beyond!  (there will be a sequel, Skitter - yikes!)  This novel opens with a group of Americans on a guided eco-tour in a Peruvian National Park. The group seems to be headed by a rich, cocky fat man, multimillionaire tech guy Ted Henderson.  When he goes off into the jungle to relieve himself, the group waits patiently on the path, but the guide notices that something seems wrong in the jungle, a silence that includes even the birdsong.  Henderson comes crashing out of the jungle with a wave of black following and surrounding him.  As it nears, the guide can see that it is not a wave of black water but a giant swarm of spiders, which proceed to attack the group members and devour them.  The rest of the novel is divided into sections, with different stories involving different characters and different events taking place in different areas of the world:  a remote area in China where a nuclear bomb is dropped on a mining facility; a university in Washington where an entomologist specializing in spiders is hoping that an ancient egg sac enclosed in an insectarium, sent to her from Peru, will hatch; a Marine Corps unit in California is waiting patiently for an assignment, any assignment, but what they are assigned to do is far beyond anything they could have ever expected; in Desperation, California, people are living in houses with fully-stocked shelters attached or nearby, in preparation for the last days, but the disaster that awaits them is not what they anticipated; and on a small island in Scotland, a young couple on a romantic weekend encounter a horror beyond anything they could ever have imagined.  I’ve always enjoyed these “nature-out-of-control” stories, ever since I was a kid and would watch those scary movies about swarms of killer bees that were heading up from Mexico and were attacking people along the way, so this book about giant man-eating spiders seemed right up my alley!  And it was certainly a page-turner.  At first I found it difficult to keep all the stories straight, but once I got into the book, I could see that they were all interconnected and were meant to demonstrate that this “infestation” or attack would not be isolated but would become a worldwide catastrophe.  It was pretty gruesome, and at one point, late one evening, after reading quite a few chapters and nearing the end, I had to put it down because I was starting to feel crawling sensations on my arms, legs and head!  But I finished it in the light of day and will look forward to the sequel, where hopefully all will be resolved.  But with so much death and destruction, will Boone find a way to end on a note of hope for the future?  It was definitely well-written, not great literature, but compelling and creepy!  I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10, but would caution anyone who has a weak stomach or a fear of creepy-crawlies to steer clear of this book - I'll admit that I've been looking at all the spiders spinning their webs in our yard just a little bit differently these days!

I also read a YA novel by Canadian author Shane Peacock, The Eye of the Crow, the first in his “Boy Sherlock Holmes” series.  I have read one other book by this author and found him to be a good writer, and I have the first two books in this series in my school libraries, so I wanted to try it out.  This novel tells the story of 13-year-old Sherlock Holmes in 19th century London, a half-Jewish boy who lives in relative poverty due to his parents’ unfortunate family circumstances - his mother is from a wealthy family but was cast out when she fell in love with Wilber, a Jewish man who was training to become a professor, but whose chances were thwarted by his wife’s wealthy parents when they continued their relationship and refused to abide their demands to end their relationship.  Sherlock avoids school, preferring to be on the streets learning about people and events through observation and reason.  His real interest lies in the police reports and news he finds in the crime sheets.  When the news of a murder in Whitechapel is announced and the arrest of a villain proclaimed, he can’t resist going to observe the guilty man as he is brought to the jail.  But he sees a boy just a few years older than himself, an Arab of Egyptian descent, who appears no more guilty of the crime than Sherlock is.  When the suspect locks eyes with Sherlock and whispers that he didn’t do it, Sherlock is compelled to search for the real criminal and free the innocent man, regardless of the risks he must take to find the truth.  It all spirals out of his control, and he is caught in an underworld where all is not what it seems and trouble lurks around every corner.  It was an interesting story, and definitely made me want to read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I have several collections of stories on my new bookshelf!), but I don’t know how well this novel would hold the attention of a young adult reader.  I certainly had challenges staying interested, as there was a lot of repetition, particularly describing Sherlock’s character, his physical demeanor, and his surroundings.  I know this book was the first in a series and is meant to set the stage for future cases as much as to relate the story, but it was less engaging than I was hoping.  But I will try the next book to see if it gets better - I guess this is the first series to look at the young detective and explore what events and experiences led him to become the greatest detective in history.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

And I finished listening to an audiobook earlier this week, The English Assassin by Daniel Silva.  This popular and prolific American author has written numerous bestselling thrillers.  I suspected that his books might not be my normal fare, but it was narrated by John Lee, so I had to give it a try.  This novel explores the Nazi involvement in shady art dealings during WWII.  The main character, Gabriel Allon, an art restorer by trade, also works part-time for a specialized Israeli Intelligence agency.  When he is sent to Zurich to restore a painting for a prominent Swiss banker, he is shocked to find the man lying dead in front of the painting to be restored.  He flees the scene, but is caught before his train leaves the station and brought in for questioning.  He is soon released and would happily have washed his hands of the whole affair, but is requested to perform one last duty, to visit the dead man’s estranged daughter.  Reclusive Anna Rolfe is a world-renowned violinist who is living in a villa in the mountains of Portugal.  When news of her father’s murder reaches her, she becomes involved in a complex web of lies and deception, and she reluctantly accepts Gabriel’s help in tracking down the man who killed her father and stole his secret art collection, a collection of paintings that had been acquired using underhanded means during the war.  As dead bodies pile up, the situation becomes more dire, and the determination of Anna and Gabriel to get to the truth and to reveal the collaboration between Swiss bankers and the Nazis compels them to keep searching, despite the dangers they face at every turn.  This was a “page-turner”, but a bit too unbelievable and sensational for my taste.  I prefer psychological thrillers that build slowly and explore the interrelationships between characters.  It was OK, but not great - in fact, it was exactly the type of book I expected it would be, plot-driven rather than character-driven.  As such, I would give it a 7 out of 10.

OK, that's all for this week.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…