Thursday, 28 July 2022

Very short post for the end of July...

It’s going to be a humid day, but so far it’s bearable, so I’ve got a steaming cup of tea as I write this incredibly short post. And sorry, I messed up the text background and have too much reading to do to waste any more time trying to fix it.

I’ve been trying to get through as many Silver Birch books as possible since it’s “crunch time” - my list of nominee choices is due to the committee in less than 3 weeks!  But I also have book club meetings and have to read those books, too.  So last weekend I read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for my Friends’ Book Club meeting on Monday night, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time I read it a number of years ago.  This novel, set in 1820s rural China, tells the story of two girls from different backgrounds who are paired up as laotongs, or “old sames”, but who, due to class and circumstances, cannot continue visiting in person.  They manage to remain in contact using Nu shu, a special language used exclusively by women in the Hunan Province of Southern China, but a misunderstanding causes their friendship to end, with disastrous results.  This book was fairly short, and I guess since I’ve read it before, I knew what to expect, but for my other book club members, I think it was quite shocking, as it detailed the process mothers used for binding their daughters’ feet (at age six or seven!!), as well as the roles (and limitations) of women during this period in Chinese history.  It sparked a great discussion about the roles of women globally over the last couple of centuries, and we wondered where things might be headed in the future.  We also discussed restrictive clothing and fashion items in history (corsets, high heels, etc).  It was a good discussion, with most people saying that this book was a real eye-opener, as they knew foot binding happened, but they didn’t know much about it or really understand the full implications of this ritual.

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

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 17 July 2022

No-post Sunday...

As I’m drinking a delicious cup of steeped tea on this still-cool Sunday morning, I wanted to let you know that there may be a stretch of a few weeks when there are no posts.  It’s not that I’m not reading.  Rather, I’m reading a lot, just not books I can tell you about, as it’s crunch time for Silver Birch reading.  We are selecting the ten nominees next month, which is a big responsibility, and there are still books on our list that no one has read yet, so I’m trying to get to as many of them as I can in order to give them all a chance.  Who knows?  Maybe one of those unread books could have been the big winner if only we’d read it in time!!

So stay cool and keep reading and I’ll touch base again when I’ve read something I can actually talk about!

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Twofer Tuesday...

It’s raining this morning, something we’ve needed for a while, and I’m officially into the first full week of my summer vacation - HURRAY!!  I was at the Mennonite thrift store yesterday to look at books and I ended up buying a really interesting triangular shaped teacup and saucer set, white porcelain with a bold pink flower on both the cup and the saucer, which I’m using right now to drink my flowery steeped Pu-erh Exotic tea.  So far, it’s a great morning!

I’ve got two books to tell you about this morning.  The first is a book that was on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Sorrow and Bliss by British Australian author Meg Mason.  Now, I know that Canadian author Ruth Ozeki won this year’s prize for The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I’m sure is fabulous, but Sorrow and Bliss was probably one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can understand how it made the shortlist.  This novel tells the story of Martha Friel, a 40-year-old British columnist who has just split up with Patrick, her husband of seven years.  She has moved back into her dysfunctional family home where she hopes to come to terms with the mental illness she has been trying to deal with since she was seventeen and a “little bomb” went off in her brain.  She recounts for us her experiences growing up with her alcoholic sculptor mother Celia and her kindly not-published poet father Fergus, as well as her younger sister Ingrid, with whom she has a close relationship.  She experiences suicidal thoughts throughout the 20+ years leading up to her 40th birthday party, thrown for her by her husband even though she specifically said that she didn’t want a party.  Shortly after this, Patrick leaves, and Martha must try to cope on her own, which she does poorly, prompting her to return to her London home.  I don’t want to say any more about the story or her experiences because the discovery is part of the joy of reading this book.  I will say that it was a hugely moving story of one woman’s struggle to cope with mental illness, and the devastating effects on people’s lives when mental health issues are ignored, denied or go undiagnosed or unacknowledged.  It was also incredibly funny, in a dark, insightful way, and the witty, sarcastic banter between Martha and Ingrid were some of the best parts of the book (well, to be honest, the whole book was a string of “best parts”).  It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me feel deeply for those who suffer in silence.  This book brought to mind Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:  imagine Esther Greenwood in a contemporary setting but 20 years older and having had various adult experiences, including getting married.  Actually, both Esther and Martha are writers, so maybe Mason was inspired by Plath’s novel.  Anyway, I think if you enjoyed The Bell Jar, you would definitely enjoy Sorrow and Bliss. It will certainly make my "shortlist" at the end of the year!

And my Volunteer Book Club will be meeting on Friday morning to discuss Canadian author Richard Wagamese’s amazing novel Indian Horse, which I finished yesterday.  This novel tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy whose family was forcibly separated in the late 1950’s and he ended up at a residential school at the age of eight.  There he suffered the terrible living conditions and mistreatment by the priests and nuns and witnessed more sorrow and cruelty than any child should ever see, but he had the love of hockey to keep his spirits up and give him purpose and hope during those desolate years.  He begs Father Leboutilier to allow him to play, and he exhibits a gift for seeing the game and using the ice to its fullest for strategic passing.  He’s singled out by Fred Kelly, a former residential school student, and moves into Fred’s family home to play with the Moose, a team of older boys who play a circuit of other Native hockey teams.  Saul’s gifts bring the team plenty of wins and they are invited to play an exhibition game against an older, more polished team of white players.  This portion of the book details the discrimination these Native players face in towns in Northern Ontario in the 1960s, when hockey was seen as a white man’s game.  Saul reluctantly moves up through the levels of hockey until he loses himself in the face of hatred and discrimination.  Although it takes many years, Saul eventually learns to deal with his past and finds a way to restore the peace and joy he felt when he first discovered hockey.  This was a fabulous read, a novel that was both incredibly heartwrenching but also filled with hope.  Wagamese did an amazing job of making Saul real and relatable, and I was thankful that there were so many moments of joy in what could have been an utterly depressing yet necessary book.  Barely over 200 pages, it is a short book that seems so much longer.  Like Saul’s hockey moves, each of Wagamese’s words was deliberately chosen and packed with meaning.  I think it will spark a great discussion with my group.  If you haven’t already read this award-winning novel, I would recommend picking it up as soon as possible. 

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and dry!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Big headache, short post...

I have a huge headache today, so this will be a very short, very uninspired post.

Last week, in between the many Silver Birch books I’ve been reading, I managed to squeeze in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I put on hold in March and only just got last week.  Here is what Indigo had to say about it:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

I will just say very quickly that I didn’t enjoy this book, and it’s probably because I’m absolutely not interested in the lives of Hollywood actors and movie stars.  But it was definitely written to be adapted for television, which is exactly what’s happening right now:  it’s being made into a Netflix series.  If you are a tabloid reader, or even a reader of memoirs, then you would probably enjoy this book. I don't enjoy either; still, I guess there must have been enough that was intriguing about this story for me to actually finish it.  Anyway, don’t listen to me on this book, but if you are interested in it, you should get your name on your library holds list now if you want to read it before the series comes out!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Quick post on a perfect summer morning…

I know it’s still a few days before the summer solstice (that sounds so much more poetic than calling it the first day of summer!), but it’s very summer-like this morning, with a gentle breeze rustling the leaves on the trees, the sun shining bright and strong, the sky a perfect blue with just a hint of clouds, and the temperature at a perfectly comfortable level for just about any outdoor activity.  Oh, and it’s a perfect day to celebrate Father’s Day!

This is a quick post to tell you why there will be no “real” post until next week.  I’ve been reading a pile of Silver Birch contenders, and you know I can’t talk about those, so the only things I can write about are the audiobooks I’ve been listening to, and they haven’t been that outstanding, so really, it’s not worth spending time writing about them.  I’ve been listening to a couple of Sally Hepworth books - remember, she’s the Australian author I “discovered” a few months ago whose book, The Mother-in-Law, reminded me of Liane Moriarty, only lighter?  Well, I listened to The Mother’s Promise and did not enjoy it at all, but I’m nearly finished The Family Next Door and it’s fabulous!!  I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the story and how much is due to the narration:  amazing Australian Barrie Kreinik for The Family Next Door vs not-so-amazing… wow, it’s the same narrator for both (she didn’t sound Australian for The Mother’s Promise)!  So it must be the story that didn’t grab me.  But I’ve put her most recent books, The Good Sister and The Younger Wife, on hold as audiobooks, and look forward to listening to them over the summer - hopefully they become available soon.  Here is a description of The Family Next Door from the publisher’s site:

Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.

The Family Next Door is Sally Hepworth at her very best: at once a deeply moving portrait of family drama and a compelling suburban mystery that will keep you hooked until the very last page.

So if you enjoy domestic thrillers about uncovering family secrets, you’ll probably love this one!

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  Enjoy the gorgeous weather and have a wonderful day!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Book club highlights on the first weekend of June...

It’s a bit cool and cloudy this afternoon as I settle down to write this post.  I’ve had a super-busy weekend and a busy day so far, and I’ve got two books to tell you about, so I’ll probably keep both book sections fairly short.

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Canadian author Kim Echlin’s novel, Speak, Silence.  This novel follows journalist Gota as she prepares to write about the trial in the Hague during the Bosnia War in the late 1990s, where a man who raped, imprisoned and tortured dozens of women faces the charge of not just the crimes against these individuals but crimes against humanity.  Gota also hopes to reconnect with Kosmos, her former lover and the father of her daughter, but instead befriends one of the victims who is now a prosecutor in this trial.  This short novel managed to pack in plenty of details about the trial proceedings, the relationships between characters, and the experiences of the women who have come forward to bear witness to these crimes.  It was a difficult read for sure, and especially with the war in the Ukraine happening right now, making the novel seem even more important and significant.  Echlin’s use of poetic language to describe the horrific, the mundane and even the humorous made this book and the subject matter more palatable for even the most sensitive reader, although I had one member say that she had to skip some parts because they were just too much.  We discussed the bravery of the witnesses, many who had repressed these experiences and even hidden them from their husbands and families.  We discussed our own privilege in never having had to face such threats or cruelty.  We wondered how people can go on after such experiences, and how this would change their lives forever.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, so the variety of topics discussed and the extent that each reader engaged with the text was a great surprise.  It turned out to be a good choice, but I think I should plan to choose a few uplifting books for next year’s list!

After finishing this short novel, I thought I wanted to read something lighter, but I started a mystery that didn’t grab me so I picked up another short novel that I had from the library, Ali Smith’s Companion Piece, which was incredible!  Sandy (AKA Sand, Shifting Sand) is a painter who had led a solitary life until her father’s recent illness, which has landed him in the hospital and has made it necessary for her to care for his dog.  This is fine, until she receives a call from Martina, a former classmate from university who Sand hasn’t heard from in decades.  Martina has been experiencing some strange “auditory hallucinations” in which “curlew” and “curfew” are repeated and then she is instructed to choose.  She contacts Sand because she remembers that she had a reputation for being a whiz with words and understanding poetry, and she asks for her advice on what this could mean.  All Sand wants to do is to be left alone to work and visit her father, and to stay far, far away from anyone else, as this book is set in the present day during covid.  But Martina’s adult children begin infiltrating her life, calling and showing up at her door wanting to know why she’s trying to take their mother away by manipulating her into being different than she always has been.  Sand is also a storyteller, and one of her stories, about a girl and her bird, takes on a life of its own in the latter half of the book.  This farcical, satirical, hilarious, dystopian-ish, thought-provoking novel about isolation, companions, companionship and the duplicity of language was absolutely unputdownable, a literary masterpiece that makes me want to run out and purchase the other books in the “Seasons” quartet (I’ve read and enjoyed Autumn, which I already have).  I guess this is the fifth part in this seasonal quartet (according to at least one review), but it can definitely be read and appreciated on its own.  You have to enjoy language, puns, and wordplay and be willing to read carefully and slowly so you don’t miss everything to enjoy this book.  I certainly plan to read it again someday and maybe take my time with it a bit more to uncover even more layers of meaning.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys current literary works that can be read as deeply or as superficially as you want, depending on your mood.  I know I’m not doing this book justice, that my praise is rather vague, but I can’t really describe the book’s brilliance or Smith’s genius… they just are.

That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful Sunday! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Last post for May

It’s a gorgeous late spring morning, with the sun shining, a gentle breeze blowing, birds chirping and leaves rustling, not too hot yet not too cool… I don’t think I could have ordered up a better day.  I’ve had a busy morning already but now it’s time to enjoy a delicious cup of Pu-ehr Exotic tea and a Date Bar from my favourite bakery.  I’m so fortunate to live right between the only two City Cafe locations left in town.

I read a really, really good book last week by Canadian author Nicole Lundrigan, An Unthinkable Thing.  This gothic murder mystery, set in the late 1950s, tells the story of Thomas Ware, an eleven-year-old boy who lives happily with his Aunt Celia in a small apartment in the inner-city area of Lower Washbourne.  He’s a bit of a dreamer, but loves school as well as his teacher, and his best friend, Wally, lives in the same building.  He was given to his aunt to raise by his mother, Esther, when he was a baby, and he rarely sees her except on birthdays and other special occasions.  This bothers him, but he loves his aunt and tries to make the best of it.  When Celia doesn’t return home one morning, he’s angry with her, thinking that she’s chosen to spend all her time with her new fancy man rather than get him ready for school, but then he learns that she’s been murdered, the latest victim of the Greenlake Killer.  Completely devastated, he is uprooted from all that he calls "home" and is sent to live with his mother on the lavish Henneberry estate in Upper Washbourne where she works as a live-in housekeeper.  Muriel Henneberry, her husband, Dr Henneberry, and their sixteen-year-old son, Martin, live on the estate where Muriel grew up, inheriting it upon her parents’ death.  This wealthy family on this enormous estate appears to be perfect, but of course, all is not what it seems, and slowly, day by day, over the course of the summer, the rot that is hidden beneath the surface is revealed, leading to a single horrific event. This was a slow-burning mystery that kept me wanting to find more time to keep reading.  I had two evening meetings this week, and I still managed to finish this on Friday night, it was that unputdownable.  I was thankful for the Epilogue, as it answered all my questions and provided additional details that brought the story to a satisfying, twisty conclusion.  I’ll warn those who are easily shocked that there were some creepy, downright disturbing parts in this book that made me cringe, but I kept reading, sort of like when you cover your eyes but peek through your fingers.  I’ve never read anything by this author, and actually never even really knew of her, but I will definitely try out some of her other books.  

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

Bye for now... Julie