Sunday, 16 June 2019

Post on Father's Day...

It’s Father’s Day, and I hope dads everywhere are being treated to something special today.  I’m enjoying a few treats myself. I have a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, a delicious Date Bar from City Cafe, and the first of our local strawberries - yum!  I’m also using a new mug made by a local potter, and so far it fits all the criteria required to make it part of an enjoyable tea-drinking experience.
Before I start this post, I wanted to mention that I may not be writing a post next weekend, as I have a busy day on Saturday and I’m going out of town on Sunday to visit my elderly aunt, which will make it difficult to find time to write.  I’ll see what I can do, but if you don’t see or receive a post next week, that’s the reason.
Last week I read a great British mystery-suspense novel, What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan.  Recently divorced Rachel Jenner and her eight-year-old son Ben are walking in the woods with their dog, Skittle, one Sunday afternoon, as is their routine.  Ben asks if he can run ahead to the swing, and Rachel reluctantly says yes in an attempt to allow him a bit of independence. When she reaches the swing, Ben and Skittle are nowhere to be found, and it takes Rachel just a few seconds to realize that her son has been abducted.  When a massive search through the woods by police and concerned citizens results in the discovery of the dog but no Ben, Rachel is frantic. The case is given to Detective Jim Clemo, who is keen to take on a high-profile case in an effort to prove himself to his boss, DS Fraser.  He recommends his girlfriend, DC Emma Zhang, as the Family Liaison Officer, and together they gather information from Rachel that may help find Ben as quickly as possible. What they hope will be a quick result ends up taking far too long, and with too many suspects and not enough firm leads, this case has devastating psychological impact on many of the key players, including Clemo and Zhang.  Complex plot twists and red herrings abound until the final satisfying conclusion to this taut thriller that kept me wondering to the very last page. I listened to the second book in this series, Odd Child Out, not long ago, so I knew that Clemo had issues with the way he handled this case. This may have skewed my reading a bit, as I was mostly concentrating on how he was messing up rather than taking the novel as a whole.  It was written from the points of view of Jim and Rachel, as well as including transcripts of Jim’s post-case sessions with the department psychologist, which suggests that Clemo has been deeply affected by the outcome of this case.  The text also includes posts from an online blog concerned with finding Ben, offering the reader insight into ways that online media can affect an investigation and influence the public opinion of the parent of a missing child. It was a bit overlong, but it was cleverly crafted, the characters well-rounded and the scenarios credible.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys psychological suspense novels involving missing children or family secrets.
And I listened to an audiobook last week by Mel McGrath, Give Me the Child, which turned out to be surprisingly good.  Child psychiatrist Dr Caitlynn/Cat Lupo and husband, games designer Tom, are sound asleep after a rather drunken evening when a knock on the door awakens them.  What they find waiting for them on the other side of the door is Ruby, an eleven-year-old girl who is the result of a fling Tom had years earlier, when Cat was pregnant with their daughter Freya and experiencing a bout of prepartum psychosis.  Ruby’s mother is dead, the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, and Tom is listed as the next of kin. This comes as a total shock to Cat, but she realizes that she must adjust her initial response and welcome this child into her home.  This becomes more difficult when unusual things begin to happen in the household and the behaviour of Freya, initially welcoming towards her half-sister, begins to alter in negative ways. She suspects that Ruby is the cause of these occurrences, as well as the negative influence on Freya, but she has no way to prove it and Tom refuses to acknowledge the problem.  Instead, he accuses Cat herself of having recurring mental health issues and threatens to have her committed if she continues to suggest that Ruby is anything but a well-adjusted young girl. Are Cat’s suspicions real, or is she being paranoid? Is Ruby showing signs of psychopathology or are her actions merely the result of her difficult early childhood and the recent death of her mother?  And does Tom really not see what is happening, or is he hiding something? This was an awesome psychological thriller that asks us to consider what could happen when a child displaying psychopathological traits is left untreated. Think We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Defending Jacob - not a bad combination at all!  I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, and felt that the author managed to offer an ending that tied up all the loose ends without feeling contrived.  Great book and interesting narrator, too.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the day, but make time to read, too!
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Short post on a warm summery morning...

It actually felt like summer is on the way this weekend, but alas, more rain and cooler temperatures are in the forecast for the coming week.  *sigh* So I’ll write this short post then get outside to enjoy as much of this lovely day as possible.
I finished The Alice Network on Friday and it was great!  Despite the rather predictable ending, it held many surprises and gave me a sense that I was really learning something about the roles and functions of spies during and between the wars.  I preferred the “Eve” sections over the “Charlie” sections, but I can see why there had to be both to make the structure work. In the "Afterward", Quinn explains how some of the situations in the book reflected situations women and men faced during this time, giving us historical context.  I would recommend it for any book club, and I think both male and female readers would appreciate and enjoy this novel.
And I finished a so-so audiobook last week, The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian.  I have never read anything by this author before, but the premise of this mystery sounded intriguing so I thought I’d give it a try.  Cassie Boden has been a flight attendant for many years, and this flight to Dubai should be no different from the hundreds of others she’d been on before.  She follows her usual pattern of drinking too much and hooking up with a man for a “casual encounter” in his hotel room, after which she plans to go back to her own hotel room to get some sleep before her return flight in the morning.  But this time, after getting “black-out” drunk, she wakes up next to a dead man, his throat slashed and his blood soaking into the mattress. Did she do it? She can’t be 100% sure that she’s not guilty of murder, so she flees the scene, erasing as much evidence as she can of her presence in the room.  Over the rest of the novel, she tries to avoid being charged with the murder, while also trying to find out who did it. It was interesting enough to keep me listening to the end, but I couldn’t really relate to Cassie at all, nor did the details of the story as it unfolded seem credible. And I was reluctant to download this novel because it had multiple narrators, something I usually dislike. I’m not quite sure why they did that for this book, as I don’t think it enhanced the listening experience at all; rather, I found that it was quite jarring whenever a different narrator took over, making the story seem disjointed.  Anyway, it was OK, but certainly not great, and based on this experience, I doubt I’ll seek out other books by this author.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunny day before the rain starts!  
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Book club highlights on a cool spring morning...

I have a cup of steaming chai tea and a yummy Date Bar as I sit down to write this post, but they are more of a “coffee and dessert”, not the main meal.  As I was cooking and preparing my lunches, I was feeling quite hungry, so I made a toasted tomato sandwich for breakfast, and it was so delicious! It brought me right back to childhood, when I used to have these quite regularly.  I think I'm going to start making them more often.
I decided to finish The Au Pair last weekend, and it was every bit as good in the last section as it had been up to the point when I wrote last week.  The story was complex, the premise believable, and the ending offered a plausible yet surprising conclusion, and while everything was wrapped up, it didn’t feel contrived.  Emma Rous did an outstanding job, especially considering this was her debut novel after eighteen years working as a veterinarian. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys gothic novels or books centred around family secrets.
I started reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn on Monday night, and was both delighted and disappointed that I got sucked into the story almost from the first page; delighted because I didn’t think I would enjoy this  historical novel, and disappointed because it meant that I wanted to read every word and couldn’t just skim it in order to prepare for my book club meeting yesterday. I’m only halfway through, but I’ll give you a summary of the book and the highlights of the discussion.  Based on an actual network of spies during WWI, this novel is told in alternating voices, one narrative set in the middle of WWI and the other set just after WWII. Charlie St Clair is a nineteen-year-old American girl from an upper-middle-class family who, in May 1947, is being brought to Switzerland accompanied by her mother to take care of her “Little Problem”.  She is not sure how she feels about her condition, but she has agreed to the Appointment because she’s arranged to travel via England, where, instead of remaining with her mother for the last leg of their journey, she heads off on her own with no money and no experience, armed only with an address on a scrap of paper and her grandmother’s pearl necklace. She is off to find her French cousin, Rose, who disappeared during the war and has not been heard from since.  Two years older than Charlie, she is like the big sister she never had, and since she was unable to save her older brother James from killing himself after returning from the war, she is determined to try to save Rose. She travels to meet Evelyn Gardiner, a drunken, cantankerous woman in her mid-fifties who may have some knowledge about Rose's last known location. When she hears about Charlie’s quest to find Rose, her interest is piqued by something Charlie says and so she reluctantly agrees to travel with Charlie, but only if Charlie pays.  We are then introduced to Evelyn/Eve Gardiner, a young British woman who, in 1915, is singled out by Captain Cameron to join a network of female spies who are tasked with collecting information about the Germans. Eve speaks English, French and German, and at twenty-two, looks seventeen. She is slight and speaks with a stutter, so is thought by most to be not very clever, an error in judgement that serves her well. When she goes to work at a restaurant in Lille where German officers are known to frequent, she is able to gather significant intelligence to pass on to the head of the network, Lili/Alice Dubois, who then passes it on to Captain Cameron.  Eve, as the shy, stuttering serving girl Marguerite, is required to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to gain further access to information about the Germans, and it can only lead to horrific consequence. This is as far as I got, about halfway through the book, but I’m sure disaster lurks in the coming pages and chapters. There were just three of us at the meeting yesterday, and only one of us finished the book, the other member having read about two thirds so far. The person who read the whole book said she loved every page, but that there were parts when she just had to put it down and take a break. When I told her I was really enjoying the book, she said that if I thought the first half was good, I would probably find that the second half was even better.  We agreed that Quinn did an excellent job of interweaving the stories - I think one member described the storytelling structure as “layers upon layers, and these layers are also overlapping”. We felt that we learned alot about female spies and spying, which was very different from the stereotypes we had in mind. We were shocked at how much these women were required to sacrifice in the name of duty, and the limited choices women had at the time to serve their country and help the war effort. All in all, it was a successful meeting and an excellent book selection, and I look forward to finishing this novel in the next day or so.
I will not have time to read the book for tomorrow night’s meeting, and I can’t even skim it, as The Mandibles is not the type of novel that lends itself to skimming.  *Sigh* I’ll just have to accept that, in this case, there really were too many books and too little time.  
That’s all for now.  Enjoy the rest of the day, whatever you do.
Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Book dilemma on a summery Sunday morning...

I have a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar keeping me company this morning, and I’m waiting for my Date Loaf to be done baking in the oven, so I’m looking forward to a slice of that as well.  So many treats, so little time!
That is exactly how I’m feeling about books, too!  I am slightly more than halfway through this surprisingly good gothic novel, The Au Pair by Emma Rous, and I’d love to tackle the rest of it today.  But I have a Volunteer book club meeting next Saturday, and we are discussing a fairly lengthy historical novel, one about which I know nothing, The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. This is also a new author for me, so I want to leave myself enough time to finish it.  I’m going to see Margaret Atwood speak on Thursday night, so that’s at least one night when I’ll get almost no reading done.  To make matters worse, I also have Friends book club meeting a week from tomorrow, and we’re discussing a book I’ve never read before, The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver.  So my dilemma is: do I power through the gothic novel and try to finish it today, then skim both the Quinn and Shriver novels next week, hoping to get sufficient understanding of the stories to contribute meaningfully to the discussions, or should I set aside The Au Pair and tackle The Alice Network today with the intent to make good headway before the work-week starts?  Let me tell you a bit about The Au Pair so you can understand why this is so difficult.
This novel is told from the points of view of two narrators, Seraphine and Laura.  On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny have their celebrations overshadowed by the death of their father, who fell from a ladder while working outside at Summerbourne, their isolated home in Norfolk.  This is not the first tragedy to strike this family. The day after she and Danny were born, their mother threw herself off the cliffs and plunged to her death. And a few years before that, their older brother Edwin was present as his twin brother, two-year-old Theo, fell from the watchtower overlooking the cliffs.  All her life, Seraphine has heard rumours that she and her brother Danny were sprite children, twins who replaced the real children that were stolen. Or that she is not really Danny’s sister at all, that she is someone else’s child who was somehow sent to live with the Mayes family for some reason. There were rumours in the village, too, that Summerbourne can’t keep its twins, that one or both throughout history have perished, or been stolen and replaced.  When she discovers a photograph taken on the day she was born of her mother, looking calm and happy and holding just one baby, Seraphine needs to know who that baby is, she or Danny, and if there was only one baby, how did two babies happen to be raised in the Mayes family? Thankfully we have the narrative of Laura, the young nanny from the time before the twins were born, to fill in the history, but how much of her story is clouded by her youth and naivité, as well as her growing feelings for the family friend, Alex?  Sprites, changelings and dark family secrets abound in this not-quite-ghost story, where elements of the supernatural are intertwined with a young woman’s need to find out the truth about her family. I know it sounds hokey, but it's really surprisingly engaging and well-written. It must be incredibly difficult to write a modern gothic novel, as one of the key elements of this genre is isolation, and these days we are all so “connected”, with our phones and devices and social media and instant updates and the endless selfies (and food pics!) that are posted ad nauseum.  But I found this one to be gripping and intriguing, and I’ve been looking forward to making more reading time each night after work and reading later than I probably should have (which would explain why I’ve been so tired this week!!).  Rous has managed to create the same sense of foreboding for this reader as Rosemary’s Baby or Rebecca, where you know something is not right, but you have no idea what that might be, and the truth is revealed bit by bit until the final, shocking ending.  Well, I don’t know about the ending here, as I’ve still got about 150 pages to go, but so far it has been a really riveting read. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not flawless, and it’s certainly not literary, but for this type of story, it’s got all the bases covered and then some!    
I think I’ll go for a long walk then power through to the end of this book, and if I’m not finished, I’ll have to set it aside until after my book club meetings are done.  Have a great day and enjoy the early-summer-like weather!
Bye for now…
Julie

Monday, 20 May 2019

Royal post on Victoria Day weekend...

I’m not sure exactly what a “royal post” entails, but I’m feeling rather queenly as I listen to the “Queen Vic” edition of CBC’s Tempo this morning, all royal music, all morning long.  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar to keep me company on this bright, brisk Monday morning.
I read the latest “Hercule Poirot” novel by Sophie Hannah last week, The Mystery of Three Quarters, and I have to say, it was just ok.  I enjoyed the very first one she wrote as she continued this series originally written by Agatha Christie, but the second and now third have left something to be desired, at least for this reader.  This novel begins with Poirot receiving a visit from a woman he does not know, accusing him of writing to her and claiming that she murdered Barnabas Pandy, that he had proof, and that he would be going to Scotland Yard with this accusation.  Of course, she claims complete innocence, informing him that she doesn’t even know this man, let alone have any reason to murder him. Poirot is prepared to write this off as an unsavoury prank until another and yet another individual come forward with the very same claim.  Four individuals in all have received the same letter, and Poirot’s interest is piqued. Who is this Barnabas Pandy, and why are these individuals being accused of murdering him? And most intriguing of all, why did they receive letters supposedly written by the great Hercule Poirot?  As his investigation proceeds, with Poirot employing his sidekick Edward Catchpool from Scotland Yard, he uncovers secrets, lies, deceptions and cover-ups that all lead to possible solutions, but which are the red herrings and which will lead to the truth? I will admit that it was mildly entertaining, but I never felt a sense of urgency with this book, like I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.  I guess I found it rather bland; it lacked the “zing” that her other psychological mysteries have. I really have nothing more to say about it, except that, if you’ve been reading these new “Poirot” novels, you’ll probably want to pick this one up, but if you’ve never read them, I’d recommend The Monogram Murders, which I recall really, really enjoying.
And I finished a surprisingly good audiobook last week, Odd Child Out by Gilly Macmillan.  I’ve never heard of this author, but this book was very interesting.  It is the second in the “DI Jim Clemo” series, and I guess at the end of the first book, Clemo was suspended or was off on stress leave or something, because he’s just returning to work and is given as his first assignment an unfortunate accident involving two fifteen-year-old boys who were playing around down by a canal the night before when one of them ended up falling in.  This boy, Noah, is now in hospital and in a coma, and Jim must determine whether there was any foul play that caused him to fall in. His friend, Abdi, is the son of a Somali refugee, and in the wake of recent racial tensions in Bristol, there is the possibility that this could have been a hate crime, despite evidence to the contrary. But Noah’s family are British and upper-middle-class, and, with their son’s life in jeopardy, his parents need to find someone to blame and some ugly prejudices surface.  What was meant to be a simple open-and-shut case to ease Jim back into his job turns out to be more complex and multifaceted than anyone could have anticipated, and as complications develop, Jim must tackle each problem aggressively while also displaying racial sensitivity. It was really a very good novel, more than a mystery-thriller, although the mystery was the thing that kept the story moving. It was also a social commentary and a look at the ways different families deal with very different but comparably difficult situations.  The narrator did a great job, and I thought Macmillan balanced the various aspects of the novel well. It was good enough that I now want to read the first “DI Jim Clemo” novel to find out why he ended up being off. Unfortunately, What She Knew is not available through the library as an audiobook, so I will have to read the print version.  I think I’ll put it on hold right now, before I forget.
That’s all for today.  The forecast has changed and it’s now not supposed to rain this afternoon, so I can to out for a long walk.  Hopefully I can find a new audiobook that is engaging - I’ve tried two others so far, but they have been disappointing. Thank goodness I have about five more already downloaded that I can choose from.  Enjoy this extra day off, whatever you do, but remember to make time to read!
Bye for now…
Julie  

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Book talk on a cool, gray morning...

It’s chilly and overcast this morning as I sit down to write this post, so my steaming cup of chai tea is a welcome treat.  It’s Mother’s Day, and I happen to have a book and an audiobook that I finished last week that deal with themes of motherhood and children, which was an unplanned but happy coincidence.
Canadian author Shelley Wood’s novel, The Quintland Sisters, focuses on the first five years in the lives of Canada’s famous five, the Dionne Quintuplets, and is told from the point of view of seventeen-year-old nurse Emma Trimpany who helped care for them.  On May 28, 1934, with the country gripped in the harsh realities of the Great Depression, five tiny babies were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne two months prematurely at their farmhouse near Callander, Ontario. They were not expected to live for more than a few hours, but they all miraculously survived.  After four months living with their family, they were made wards of the state for the next nine years under the Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act of 1935 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionne_quintuplets).  During a time of poverty, war and strife, these five children brought considerable profit to the area and were treated as tourist attractions.  This book takes the first five years of their lives and presents a detailed fictional account of their existence as described by Emma in her journal and letters, with newspaper articles and documents interspersed.  Wood describes the Dafoe Nursery, which was built across from the Dionne family farmhouse, the strict schedules of waking, bathing, feeding, play, and family visits for the sisters, and the legal wranglings surrounding the promotion of such items as Karo Corn Syrup and Quaker Oats.  Emma, who wanted to be an artist but became a nurse so she could stay with the quintuplets, having started out as just a housemaid who happened to be on the scene at the time of the birth, offers an insider’s view of the activities surrounding the children and their upbringing during their early years, and also her thoughts and insights into how this might be affecting them and whether it was all in their best interest.  I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, especially epistolary novels (novels told through diary entries or through a series of documents), but this book hooked me from the very first page. Emma’s narrative did not seem like diary entries, simply storytelling from her point of view. It reminded me of Eva Stachniak’s novel The Winter Palace, which was told from the point of view of Barbara, Imperial handmaid to Catherine the Great, a novel that managed to truly transport me to the time and place of the action.  So, too, did The Quintland Sisters, although Wood left out much detail about the Depression and the imminent war. It was also a love story, one that the author resolves in a very interesting and unique way. All in all, this was a fabulous book, one that I will definitely put on my book club list for next year, and one that has piqued my interest in the Dionnes and has encouraged me to pick up that paperback I've had sitting on my shelf upstairs for years by Ellie Tesher to find out what happened to them after Emma’s account ends.  This kind of fits into the “motherhood” theme, as the novel addresses family and children, and the rights of parents to have access to, and to exploit, their children.
And I finished listening to an audiobook by Clare Mackintosh last week, Let Me Lie, about mothers and motherhood, and what a mother would do to protect her children.  Tom and Caroline Johnson committed suicide the previous year by jumping off a cliff. They did this in exactly the same manner, but seven months apart, leaving a grieving twenty-five year old daughter Anna to pick up the pieces.  Now a new mother living in her family home with her partner and former therapist, Anna is just beginning to come to terms with her grief as the anniversary of her mother’s suicide approaches, when a card is delivered that calls into question everything she thought she knew.  Convinced that it is merely a sick practical joke, she is almost ready to dismiss it when another incident occurs that cannot be ignored, and we the readers are sucked into a whorling downward spiral as bits and pieces of the truth are revealed, until the final shocking conclusion.  I can’t tell you more than this as I don’t want to give away any of the details, as the best part of this novel is the building suspense and the sense of always not-quite-knowing what's going on. I don’t necessarily love Mackintosh’s books, but they are interesting and complex enough to keep me reading, well, actually listening, and this one didn’t disappoint.  It certainly delved into themes of mothers, motherhood and family, and who, in the end, you can trust with your life.
That’s all for today.  Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women who make a difference in the lives of others every day!
Bye for now… Julie

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Tea and treats on another sunny Sunday morning...

It’s such a relief to see the sun again today, after so much rain last week and the overcast, brisk temperatures as recently as yesterday.  It’s still a bit chilly outside, but the warmth of the sun can definitely be felt already, and I’m sure it will turn out to be a lovely spring day.  And while I’d love to get outside right now, I have a steaming cup of chai tea, a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, and a delicious Date Bar to entice me to stay in and write this post.
My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This novel, published in 2015, is supposedly the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird that Lee originally submitted to her publisher and that was rejected and reworked into Mockingbird.  Set 20 years after Mockingbird, against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, this novel sees twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returning to her home in Maycomb, Alabama from New York for a two-week visit.  She is met at the station by her sweetheart, Henry Clinton, who implores her to move back home and marry him. He points out that her father, Atticus, is getting older, and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and that it is her duty as a daughter to care for him at this time in his life.   Her response is that Atticus will let her know when he needs her, and proceeds to make small-talk with Henry, avoiding his marriage proposal once again. Atticus’ sister, Alexandria, is taking care of the household and her brother now that Calpurnia has retired and returned to her family, and Alexandria, too, implores Jean Louise to move back home and settle down.  It is clear that Jean Louise is trying to figure things out now that she has finished school in New York, and she asks Henry to take her to Finch’s Landing, where they have another discussion about marriage, and Jean Louise proposes a midnight swim. On their way back home, they are overtaken by a carload of young black men driving dangerously fast, and Henry mentions that they now have the money for cars, but fail to get licenses or insurance.  The next day, their swim causes a minor scandal, and Alexandria arranges a Coffee for Jean Louise, in the hopes that it will serve to help her reconnect with old friends and show her how good life in Maycomb could be for her. Jean Louise learns that Calpurnia’s grandson struck and killed a man, and decides to visit Calpurnia to offer her support, but is met with a chilly response. When she later finds a pamphlet among her father’s papers entitled “The Black Plague”, and hears that her father and Henry will be attending the Citizen’s Council Meeting where a racist speaker will be presenting, she follows them to the meeting and is appalled to find that her father is not just a member but is actually introducing this speaker.  She is horrified, and seeks advice from Atticus’ brother, eccentric Uncle Jack, who tells her that Atticus is only trying to slow down the process of racial integration in the South in order to avoid another uprising, but Jean Louise has trouble grasping this notion. The fact that her father has agreed to take Calpurnia’s grandson’s case in order to stop the NAACP from getting involved is too much for her to understand and process. It is only once she has a discussion with her father that she is able to see that, just as she had originally believed, Atticus can still serve as a “watchman”, or moral compass, for the County, and that she, too, could fill the same role. She tells Henry that she doesn't love him and will never marry him, but she is able to finally see her father not as a godlike figure, but as a man, flawed but well-intentioned.  I was a bit nervous about this discussion, due to the controversial response to this novel, and the fact that my group members loved Mockingbird, but they surprised me once again by demonstrating their open-mindedness and insight.  We discussed the controversy surrounding the publication of this novel, and wondered if Lee would have wanted it published at all.  We discussed the ways in which our responses to both Mockingbird and Watchman might have been different if they had been published close to the same time and if Watchman had, in fact, been a sequel to Mockingbird rather than a first draft.  We wondered how much editing went into this novel before it was published, as it felt, despite the rich language, description and characterization, a bit rough, and we all agreed that it would have taken on a different shape if it were polished and released as a sequel.  Because I am not a huge fan of Mockingbird, I thought it might be interesting to read this novel, and I enjoyed it much more than Mockingbird for a number of reasons.  The characters seemed more believable, the difference between good and evil was less defined, more subtle, and the writing had more “zing”, for lack of a better word.  In Mockingbird, Scout and Atticus were too unbelievable, too saintly, and the situation was too obvious.  In Watchman, there is no real “situation”, it is more of a “coming-of-age” story for Jean Louise.  It reminded me of Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent in both style and message, exposing the dark underside of American society, and suggesting that corruption or “evil” is not always clearly defined, but is more often coloured in shades of gray.  All in all, it was a successful meeting, and I would recommend this to anyone, even if you are a fan of Mockingbird.  It is also a great choice for book clubs, especially if your group has already read Mockingbird.        
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather!
Bye for now…
Julie