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…
Julie

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

Monday, 23 May 2022

Short post on a long weekend...

This is going to be a short post, as I haven’t been reading as much as usual these past couple of weeks.  I know I missed posting last week because I hadn’t finished anything, and once I did finally finish my book, I spent the rest of last week reading Silver Birch books, which of course I can’t talk about.  *sigh*  I really just want to have more reading time…  so many books… 

My Friends book club met last Monday night to discuss Ruth Hogan’s debut, The Keeper of Lost Things.  Anthony Peardew is a writer who has spent the past forty years pining for the love of his life, Therese, who died shortly before they were to be married.  On the day she died, he lost the medal she gave him, and since then, he has collected lost things in the hopes that they might be reunited with their owners, but really hoping that he might someday be reunited with his own lost keepsake.  He takes on an assistant, Laura, a recently divorced woman in her mid-thirties who immediately falls in love with the house, and a little bit with Anthony.  Upon his sudden death, Anthony bequeaths everything to Laura, with the condition that she take on the role of Keeper of Lost Things and continue to try to get them back to their owners.  Along the way, Laura and the gardener develop a relationship, and the neighbour girl, Sunshine, who has Down Syndrome, also becomes part of the household.  Alternating with the Anthony/Laura story is one set decades earlier involving a publisher named Bomber, who loves his dogs, and his assistant Eunice, who also loves the dogs, as well as their owner.  These stories are interconnected, and interspersed within these chapters are what I thought were Anthony’s short stories about various lost items, but upon finishing the book and having discussion with the others in the group, I’m not sure what exactly they were.  Anyway, chapters and stories are all interspersed and interconnected until all is (mostly) explained at the end.  Oh, there was a bit of a ghost story thrown in, too.  When I started this short-ish novel, I suspected that it would be similar to other “feel-good” books along the lines of The Unexpected Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove, where lonely, sometimes curmudgeonly people learn to find joy and hope in human connection, and I wan’t far wrong.  It had all the hallmarks of this type of book, with plenty of quirky, lonely, disconnected characters seeking meaning and human connection, but as I was reading it, the word that kept coming to mind regarding the book was twee.  I thought the author tried too hard by tossing everything into the story, and felt that it lacked the depth of character and plot that some of the others in this genre have which elevate them above the mere mediocre.  The writing was good, and for a first novel, it was a real achievement, but I found I couldn’t relate to any of the characters, and in my opinion, there was nothing about it that made it exceptional. The others in the group enjoyed this selection, though, and felt that it was the kind of light, uplifting book we needed.  I really didn’t like the ghost story sections, and the others agreed that they could have been omitted, but wondered whether they were necessary to move the plot along.  We discussed the stories within the story, what they meant and why they were included, as well as comparing the parallel stories of Anthony/Laura and Bomber/Eunice.  It was a good discussion, and based on the response of the others, I would recommend this as a book club selection if you are looking for something light.

That’s all for today.  Happy Victoria Day!  Enjoy the rest of the long weekend, whatever you decide to do.

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Tea and treats on a perfect spring morning...

It’s bright and sunny, with just a hint of breeze on this cool, refreshing spring morning.  Everything is green and bursting with life after the rain we had last week, the birds are singing, the laundry is hanging on the clothesline outside, and it’s a perfect day for a walk… or maybe I can take my bike out for a first spin of the year!  But for now, I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar to enjoy as I write this post.

My Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Canadian author Michael Christie’s nearly 500-page book, Greenwood, and it was a huge success (no pun intended!).  This “1200 year-old, Ancient Forest Douglas Fir” of a book tells multiple stories that are all connected through the theme of logging and the ecological harm that deforestation can cause.  Set in 2038, 2008, 1974, 1934 and 1908, the story begins at what could be seen as the outer ring of a log, where the Withering has destroyed all of the world’s trees.  Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood, a dendrologist, works in one of the last remaining stands of Ancient Forest on a small island off the coast of BC, Greenwood Island, conducting tours at an Eco-Retreat, where the attendees are generally rich and distracted.  When she notices evidence of a fungus on one of the oldest and most stately trees, her concern is met with total disregard by the management.  Drowning in student debt and barely hanging on to her job, Jake is skeptical when her former fiancé, Silas, turns up with a new kind of proposal, one that, if accurate, could save her and possibly the trees.  Readers are then taken back to 2008, where we meet Jake’s mother, Meena and father, Liam, and learn their stories.  Moving once again back to 1974, we meet Liam’s mother, Willow, and discover what led Liam to become the man he was.  Moving back again to 1934, we meet Willow’s family members and learn a bit about why she became the woman she did.  And then back to 1908, to the beginning of it all, where we meet Harris and Everett, two boys whose lives will touch all the others in the story, and whose origins are at the centre of everything.  My friend gave me this book a couple of Christmases ago, and I’ve been putting off reading it because, at 490 pages, it was, well, quite daunting.  I generally don’t enjoy long books, especially multi-generational sagas, but I put this one on our book club list for our May meeting because it is at heart a wake up call to start living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, perfect to read around Earth Day.  I wasn’t sure how my book club members would feel about reading such a lengthy book, and one of my book club members, who listens to audiobooks, said that, at 15+ hours, she was sure she wasn’t going to like it or even finish it, but she then admitted that she was enjoying it so much that she actually finished it early.  The others agreed that they found it to be “unputdownable”, as did I.  It was a very complex story with plenty of sub-plots that, like the roots of trees in a forest, were tightly interwoven and were all necessary for the health of the main plot (or tree).  We found the analogy of the stories to the forest to be well-developed, and the relationships within the story were also like those in a forest.  The interconnectedness of the characters, whether blood relatives or circumstantial family members, like those of the tree roots, were explored in depth throughout the sections of the story, but rather than becoming tedious or overwhelming, this exploration was necessary to bring a more complete understanding of the far-reaching results of decisions made in the past as they bear on the decisions made in the present or even the future.  WOW, it was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I think my book club members would agree.  We all loved it, and Christie did an amazing job of making every detail of this complex story work together to create a literary masterpiece in what I’ve just learned is a new genre, CliFi (Climate Fiction).  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone, and if you’re put off by the size, don’t be - I guarantee you’ll stay up late to read “just one more chapter” and will end up wanting more when you do finally reach the very last page.  And just a note:  if you do read this book, read right to the very last page, as there is a little surprise!

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Bye for now... Julie


Sunday, 1 May 2022

I almost forgot...

Happy May Day, or International Workers Day!  In honour of this day, I am celebrating by (almost) taking the day off from posting.  Actually, the real reason I haven’t posted until this evening is because I only had time to read half of Kelley Armstrong’s paranormal mystery, Omens, last week.  This is the first book in the “Cainsville” series, about a young woman, just shy of her 25th birthday, who finds out that she is not actually the daughter of a wealthy family about to come into her trust fund and marry the man of her dreams, but the daughter of a pair of serial killers who have been in jail for the past 20+ years.  I’ve had to stop reading it because I have a 500 page book club selection to read and process before our meeting next Saturday, and I’m only 50 pages into it.  I hope to be able to tell you all about Greenwood by Michael Christie next week and then possibly finish Omens  as well as something else by the following week.  *sigh*  So many books…

That’s all for now.  Have a good night!

Bye for now... Julie


Sunday, 24 April 2022

Post on a sunny summer-ish day...

It’s unseasonably warm and sunny, and it’s supposed to get significantly warmer by this afternoon, a little taste of summer before the temperature plummets again by the middle of next week.  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, as well as my usual Date Bar, to fuel me up before I head out for a long walk after finishing this post.

I read a book last week that was recommended to me by my cousin, who is also an avid reader.  American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins tells the story of Lydia and Luca, a mother and son who are trying to escape the jefe (boss) of a drug cartel in Acapulco, Mexico, after Lydia’s husband and extended family are killed at a birthday celebration.  Bookstore owner Lydia has been friends with Javier, the jefe, without knowing his association with the cartel, but something has made her a target (you’ll have to read the book to find out what), and now she has to save the only family she has left and get across the border to the US while evading gang members along the way.  The only way she can get across is by posing as a migrant, and she meets various people on her journey, some who offer help and some who are intent on causing harm.  My cousin loved, loved, loved it, so I found a second-hand copy and started it last weekend, and I’ll admit that it was a very compelling read.  But I had issues with the fact that the author is not Latinx, and I wondered how it was that she felt she could write about the migrant experience.  In the author note at the end, she does say that she wished someone “slightly browner” would write this story, but that her husband was an immigrant who was undocumented before they married, leading me to assume that he is Latinx.  I just looked up reviews of this book and there is plenty of controversy surrounding it for this very reason; also, her husband, while an immigrant, is originally from Ireland.  So you can read this “propulsively readable” book if you wish, but don’t think, as I did, that you are getting an authentic peek at the harrowing migrant experience.  

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

Bye for now... Julie