Thursday, 15 April 2021

Thursday morning post...

It’s a cool, overcast morning as I sip a steaming cup of chai and enjoy an Apple Cinnamon Date Square, a change from my usual Date Bar.  It is supposed to start raining later this morning, so I’m hoping to finish this post and head out for a long-ish walk before it begins.

I finished reading The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell, a book I found to be unputdownable.  After drinking way too much, Maya, the third wife in a sprawling family of two ex-wives and five children of various ages, stumbles in front of a bus and dies.  Was it an accident or did she step out intentionally?  Nearly a year after her death, grieving, significantly older husband Adrian is tacking up a notice in the post office to find a home for Maya’s cat, Billie, when Jane enters his life.  Beautiful, smart, compelling Jane visits the flat under the pretense of possibly adopting Billie.  When she decides against this, but turns up unexpectedly when the whole family are out for dinner, and when one of Adrian’s daughters admits to having seen her at one of her skating practices, Adrian begins to suspect that Jane had something to do with, or at least knows something about, Maya’s death.  But then Jane disappears and Adrian is at a loss.  When oldest son Luke discovers evidence of possible foul play on his father’s computer, everyone becomes involved in the search for the truth about what really happened to Maya - was is an accident, suicide or murder?  This was such an engaging, gripping domestic thriller that I flew through it, finding opportunities to read whenever I could.  It was part mystery, part psychological thriller, and a big part of the novel looked at the real family dynamics under the veneer of placid acceptance and willing cooperation.  Of course, all is not what it seems, but the brilliance of this novel is the not-quite-knowing what is true and what is pure pretense.  I have read or listened to many of Jewell’s novels in the past, and for me, this one ranks right up there with the best of her books.  The characters and relationships were complex yet credible, the situations were compelling, and the plot rolled along at an even pace that was just right for this reader.  It brought to mind other novels that explore domestic discord beneath a seemingly tranquil surface such as Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies and The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, but was a much gentler treatment of this theme.  In my opinion, it’s actually almost too gentle to call a “thriller”- it is more of a domestic drama.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys this type of book.

That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful rest of the week and enjoy your weekend!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Post on an "April showers" morning...

It rained heavily last night, and we’re expected to have more rain over the next few days.  As unpleasant as this might be, everything is looking very green this morning.  And it’s a perfect day for a hot cup of tea and a good book.

My book club met virtually yesterday to discuss The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.  Isabel Dalhousie is an independently wealthy single woman in her early forties living in Edinburgh.  She has a degree in Philosophy and is the editor of the “Review of Applied Ethics”, but this is just a very part-time job.  She seems to spend most of her time drinking coffee, doing the crosswords, dropping in on her niece Cat at her deli and attending lectures… oh, and getting involved in things tht are really none of her business.  This novel opens with Isabel attending a concert that she is clearly not enjoying, having been given this ticket by a friend who was unable to go.  She is readying herself to leave when she witnesses a young man fall to his death from the upper balcony.  This event has shaken her, and when she reads about it in the newspaper the next day, she decides that it is her moral obligation to find out more.  Did he just fall or could he have jumped?  When she discovers that a friend of hers was also a friend of this man, Mark, she probes for more information about his life, and thus begins her investigation into what really happened to him before he met his death.  She is also concerned with Cat’s choice of boyfriend, as she has disliked Toby since her first introduction.  She wants Cat to resume her relationship with Jamie, whom Isabel feels would be much more suitable and would make Cat happier in the long run.  Alas, the heart goes where the heart wants to go.  These two issues make up the bulk of this first installment in the “Isabel Dalhousie” series.  We were originally scheduled to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but one of my members thought it was too heavy and depressing to read right now, so soon after The Hate U Give, and requested that we switch up the reading list so we could read something a bit happier during this stressful time of rising COVID case numbers. It was a great idea, and Eleanor Oliphant is now rescheduled for the fall, when we will all hopefully be vaccinated and life returns to something resembling normal.  This book was well-written and thought-provoking but was not heavy or sad.  It was a light, if philosophical, read, and really took readers inside Edinburgh.  One of my members read this when it was on our book list for last year, before life came to a standstill last March due to COVID, and she enjoyed it so much that she’s now on book five of this series.  We all thought Isabel was much older than early forties, probably because of her habitual, unexciting lifestyle and the fact that she does not have a “real” job, as the “Review” seems to be more of a hobby.  We found her relationships with both Cat and Jamie to be very interesting, as well as her relationship with her very Scottish, very unbending housekeeper Grace.  While Grace sees everything in terms of black and white, for Isabel, all things are varying shades of gray, and she wonders which outlook makes one happier.  One member said this book did not make her feel excited, that it was an easy, calming read, a thought upon which we all agreed.  One of my members had read a few books in McCall Smith’s more famous series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, and she found some similarities between the main characters.  I think that, once we can go to used bookstores again, I will try to find a few more books in this series, as Isabel is like a friend I might want to take off my bookshelf and “go for coffee with”, as opposed to requesting from the library and “making dinner reservations”.  It was a good choice and we had a great discussion.  

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and curl up with a good book!

Bye for now…
Julie

Friday, 2 April 2021

Easter weekend post...

It’s Good Friday, the first day of the Easter weekend, and I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a slice of date bread to keep me company.  It’s a gorgeous, bright, sunny, chilly morning, the perfect time to write a post about a couple of great books.

Just this morning I finished reading a brilliant book by Sarah Gailey, The Echo Wife.  I must have read a review of this book, I can’t remember when or where, but I’m so glad I did.  This short novel, barely 250 pages, tells the story of Evelyn Caldwell, a scientist who is doing ground-breaking research on cloning.  Her husband, Nathan, is having an affair with Martine, a genetically cloned replica of Evelyn, a softer, more pliant, more obedient version.  Shortly after winning a prestigious award, Evelyn gets a call from Martine, asking her to meet for coffee.  By the end of that day, Nathan will be dead and the two wives will have to think fast to clean up the mess.  What follows is, to quote a review from “Entertainment Weekly”, “a trippy domestic thriller which takes the extramarital affair trope in some intriguingly weird new directions” (https://ew.com/books/sarah-gailey-echo-wife-preview/).  I don’t want to give away any more details, because half the fun of this book is the not-knowing, but let me say that it’s one of the best, most intriguing, most insightful, thought-provoking, darkly funny books I’ve read in a long time, maybe ever.  If I hadn’t read the Acknowledgements early on in my reading, I wouldn’t have realized what a soul-searching mission about “abuse and grooming and identity” (p 256) this book must have been for the author.  Gailey calls what Evelyn does to her clones “neurocognitive programming”, a cold, clinical, scientifically-detached term for the extensive manipulation she subjects them to on their journey to completion.  This book was amazing on so many levels, containing concepts I could barely wrap my head around.  Imagine Jodi from ASA Harrison’s The Silent Wife meeting one of Ira Levin’s Stepford wives, but written with the brilliant, dark, subversive language we would expect from Margaret Atwood.  This novel was a confession, an apology, an admission of guilt, a therapy session, and a frightening exploration into the very depths of the soul to uncover just how far we would go to achieve our ultimate goal.  I think I need to buy my own copy, as it’s the kind of book that offers a better, deeper understanding each time it is read.  It’s too bad that it’s classified as “Science Fiction” and kept in that section at my public library, as I think it may end up hidden away from the browsing eyes of the general fiction reader who wouldn’t normally read sci-fi (like me).  I’ll do my best to promote it through this post and word-of-mouth. 

And just briefly, I finished listening to another domestic thriller, the latest by Canadian author Shari Lapena, The End of Her, and I have to say, it was deliciously devious.  Stephanie and Patrick are a young couple struggling to keep things together while dealing with colicky twins.  They seem to have everything (except enough sleep!), but when a woman from Patrick’s past shows up and starts making accusations about his role in the death of his first wife, their seemingly-perfect lives begin to unravel.  How will they cope with this woman, the blackmail, a possible investigation, and the uncertainty of their future?  This book twists and turns like the best domestic thrillers, and kept me wanting to find more opportunities to listen and find out what happens next.  I haven’t always enjoyed Lapena’s books, but I would highly recommend this one if you are in the mood for a story that will keep you up too late at night just to get to the last page.     

That’s all for today.  Wishing you a Safe and Happy Easter!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Rain, rain, go away...

It’s a dull, rainy morning as I sip my cup of steaming chai and enjoy a slice of freshly baked Date Bread and a delicious Date Bar.  I’ve got a kitty snuggled in my arms, too, and I’m typing with one hand, so this may be a short post.

I finally got a chance to read Kelley Armstrong's latest book in the “Rockton” series, A Stranger in Town, which I was super-excited about.  Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations and left me feeling a bit flat once I closed the book.  If I remember correctly, Eric and Casey are once again out for a hike, pondering the declining number of residents in Rockton and the unusually high number of extension requests that are being denied by the council, when an injured tourist stumbles onto their path (or maybe they stumble upon the ravaged campsite).  It looks like she was attacked by hostiles, leaving her nearly comatose, and they must try to save her and find out more about her attackers. If it was indeed the work of the hostiles, it would strengthen their case with the council that the hostile situation must be dealt with soon, but in a humane and respectful way.  They discover that this Danish tourist was part of a group of four, and while Eric and Casey are searching for the others, they discover more dead bodies, also possibly victims of a hostile attack.  When two people from the First Settlement go missing after a meeting in Rockton, the case becomes more dire and they must ramp up their efforts before more dead bodies turn up.  Is this all part of a much bigger plan, a plan that could affect the future of the whole town?  It will be up to Casey and Eric to uncover the truth before it’s too late.  OK, just to be clear:  this book was miles above your average run-of-the-mill mystery.  The characters were as consistent and interesting as they were in previous books, the setting was just as Wild West/wilderness survival-ish, the plot just as complex and compelling, and the topic of the hostiles was finally explored in-depth, so I’m not sure why this novel was less-than-satisfying.  Maybe it was because I felt there were not enough of the usual resident interactions that I have come to expect from this series, or maybe there was too much negotiating and not enough detecting…  Whatever the reason, I felt a certain sense of disappointment when I reached the last page.  Of course I will read the next book in the series, when and if it comes out, but I think the fourth and fifth books are her best so far.

That’s all for today.  Stay dry, drink tea, and pick up a good book.

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Happy Spring!

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it certainly feels like it these days, bright sun, mild temperatures and all!  But it’s never too warm to enjoy a steaming cup of chai and a delicious date bar.  This will be a super-quick post, as I’ve hardly done any reading lately.

I read a very short novel last week called Agatha by Danish psychologist and author Anne Cathrine Bomann.  A lonely, antisocial psychiatrist is counting down the days, the hours of therapy, and the patients until his retirement.  He has stopped caring and just wants to get through the next few months.  When his secretary books a new client, Agatha, against his direct orders, he reluctantly agrees, not realizing that this client will change his life.  This debut novel explores themes of loneliness and human connection, and asks readers to consider whether we are ever too old to change.  It got rave reviews, and the cover was so enticing that I opened it with great anticipation, but I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed.  I’ve read many books like this, ones that offered a much more satisfying reading experience, at least for me.  Agatha was rather brief and one-dimensional, while others, such as A Man Called Ove or The Elegance of the Hedgehog, delve so much deeper into these themes and explore the human condition so much more completely, with complex, three-dimensional characters and situations that really moved me and, at the risk of sounding too corny, touched my soul.  Anyway, it is so short that it will only take you a couple of hours to read, so don’t take my word for it - clearly others loved this book and so might you.

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

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Happy 𝝅 Day!

Today is March 14 (3.14) so, to celebrate 𝝅 Day, I’m having pie for breakfast!  YUM!  This piece of cherry pie from Just Love Pie is a delicious compliment to my yummy date bar, and since both are made locally, I’m doing my part to help support local businesses.  Yes, I know… this just sounds like an excuse to have pie, which I will readily admit is true, but I’m going to try to get in the spirit of of the day by watching the 1998 film “𝝅”, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, a psychological thriller I remember really enjoying when I first watched it.  It’s also a short-ish day, as we lost that hour for Daylight Savings Time.  I did extra stuff yesterday so that I wouldn’t have as much to do today to prepare for the coming work week, and although I usually feel behind for days after this time change, I think I’m pretty much on schedule this morning.  YAY! (I think the anticipation of pie helped!)

Last week I read Toronto lawyer/author Robert Rotenberg’s latest mystery, Downfall, and it was very good.  This novel, featuring the usual cast of characters, explores the roots of homelessness in first-world countries, as well as the far-reaching and long-term effects on those left behind.  Two homeless people have been murdered within days of each other near an elite golf course backing on to the Humber River Valley, a location that has recently become a camp used by many of the city’s homeless population.  This is now becoming big news, drawing attention to the extent of the homelessness issue in one of the world’s wealthiest cities.  When a third person is murdered, friends and family of the deceased rally together to try to uncover the truth surrounding what appears to be the work of a serial killer, and the pressure mounts from both the wealthy residents and the advocates for the poor to find this killer and make the streets and ravines safe for all.  I haven’t loved all of Rotenberg’s books, but this one was immediately engaging, and I found myself wishing for more opportunities to read and find out what happens next.  He did a great job of exploring the homelessness issue with clarity and compassion. How did we let things get this bad, and what, if anything, is the solution? It’s something I don’t really know much about, but I often wonder how someone ends up living on the street, whether there was a single moment in a person’s life when one choice, one decision, altered his or her future irrevocably, or whether it was a series of choices, decisions and circumstances that led him or her to that fate.  Old City Hall is Rotenberg’s first (and in my opinion, best) book, and you really should read it first to at least become familiar with the core characters that appear in subsequent books, Ari Greene, Daniel Kennicot, and Nancy Parish, among others. Stranglehold, his fourth book, rivals Old City Hall in terms of "best-ness", as I consider both to be "Lee Valley" books, books with complex plots and interesting, well-developed characters. This one has less substance, but deals with such an important issue that it is definitely worth reading. There are others beyond the ones I mentioned above, but these three are my favourites.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the mild, early-spring weather!  I am planning to go for a long walk to work off all that 𝝅!

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Post on a sunny, early-Spring morning...

It’s sunny and bright this morning, with milder temperatures expected over the next week, so my plan is to finish this post as quickly as possible and get outside for a long walk before heading back to work tomorrow.  I can’t rush my steaming cup of chai tea or my slice of freshly baked Date Bread, though… some things demand to be savoured.

My book club met virtually yesterday to discuss Angie Thomas’ Young Adult novel, The Hate U Give, which was chosen to be read during Black History Month due to the story, but it has also been banned or challenged because it featured drug use and explicit language.  Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old black girl living in a poor neighbourhood who attends an elite, predominantly white school on the other side of town.  She must separate and balance both personas, not being too “white” in her black neighbourhood, but not bringing too much “ghetto” into her white environment.  The book opens with Starr at a party where she meets her old friend and first crush, Khalil.  They hang out and catch up, but when an incident occurs, they leave together, with Khalil promising to bring her home.  They are stopped by police on a deserted road and, although unarmed and despite complying with all demands, Khalil is shot and killed, with Starr as the sole witness.  What follows is her struggle to seek justice for Khalil while also keeping herself and her family safe, as well as maintaining her two separate personas.  I was so impressed with this novel and with Thomas’ ability to tell a tragic, moving story without making it seem angry - it didn’t shout, but spoke calmly, clearly and with confidence.  The characters and situations were credible and the story depicted a sad-but-all-too-true situation, with black people being treated unfairly all the time, everywhere, even today.  Only one person was able to join the discussion yesterday, so we didn’t delve too deeply into the novel.  Our discussion was more general, touching on the fact that this book was a real eye-opener for us; although we know this in a general sort of way, it's difficult to really believe that many people live in areas where gunshots and sirens are commonplace and that they should expect to be treated unfairly by police, so they shouldn't make any sudden moves and they should keep their hands visible at all times.  Yes, drugs played a role in this story, but I thought Thomas explained the situation to readers clearly, that not all drug dealers are thugs, and that sometimes you do what you have to do to save the ones you love.  We discussed the fact that Starr attended a posh prep school rather than attending the school in her own community.  We discussed why Starr’s father Maverick resisted moving his family to a better neighbourhood and his altruistic motives for keeping his business there.  My book club member said that the audiobook also included an excerpt from Thomas' next book, On the Come Up, which she found interesting enough to want to read at some point.  This was a perfect book to lead into an exploration of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet read it.

I also finished listening to the fourth book in the “Rockton” series by Kelley Armstrong, Watcher in the Woods, and WOW, it was amazing!  An unexpected visitor arrives in Rockton, and Casey and Eric are at a loss as to how to handle this US Marshall, who claims to have a warrant for one of the residents.  Casey and Eric already have their hands full with Casey’s sister, April, in town to help out with a medical emergency, so they can’t give the Marshall their full attention.  Then the situation escalates and they must act fast, because this is a town full of criminals who are certain that this visitor is there for them.  I think this was the best book yet, although I’ve kind of forgotten the first book I listened to, Alone in the Wild, which is the fifth book and the one that got me interested in this series in the first place.  I just picked up the most recent “Rockton” book, A Stranger in Town, and I’m super-excited to get to it, but I’ve also got at least ten other library books sitting on my coffee table waiting to be prioritized.  So many books, and, as always, so little time… sigh…

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine!  Oh, and Happy International Women’s Day (tomorrow)!

Bye for now… Julie