Sunday 26 November 2023

Quick post on a rainy evening...

I’ve got a kitty in my arms as I write this post (typing with one hand… sorry for any typos!).  It was quite lovely out earlier so I got out and did a few things, then went for a medium walk before heading home to get ready for the new work week.  But now the forecasted rain/snow has begun, and it may be time to start wearing boots.I finished reading Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry last week, but I think I’ll wait until after our book club meeting to tell you about it.  I also finished the latest book by Lisa Jewell, None of This is True, and it was a real page-turner.  This book focuses on Alix and Josie, two women who meet at a pub on the night of their 45th birthdays.  Realizing that they are birthday twins creates the beginnings of a bond that grows stronger and stronger throughout the novel.  Alix is a podcaster whose series about strong women has reached its end.  When Josie approaches her with a new idea, a podcast not about women who have succeeded but one about a woman on the verge of leaving her old life behind in search of something new, she is intrigued and they begin recording sessions.  What emerges is a story of grooming and pedophilia, of decades of abuse and denial.  But what, if any, of this is true?  And why would Josie be telling Alix these stories?  What could her end game be?  As much as I'd love to discuss it in more depth, I don't want to spoil it by revealing too many details. Jewell’s novels usually have a darker underside, and the stories are often not what they seem, but this one is by far her darkest novel yet.  Who and what can we believe in a novel with a title like this?  Is the author forewarning us that none of this is, in fact, true, or are we expected to determine which parts are true and which are not?  And are there really only cut-and-dried truths or are there shades of truth?  Does everyone have their own truth, even if they experience the same event as others around them?  If you enjoy domestic thrillers, then this could be a great choice for you.  The story’s bleakness is especially suited to the shorter, darker days of November, although it takes place mostly during a hot London summer.  I always enjoy Jewell’s books, and this one did not disappoint.  That’s all for tonight.  Time to curl up with another good book for yet another book club meeting!  Take care and stay dry! 

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 19 November 2023

Mid-November post...

I know that this is not everyone’s favourite month, with gloomier weather and the sudden darkness that falls so early now that we’ve changed the clocks back, but I quite like November, with its sinister-looking bare tree branches in sharp contrast to the lightness of the sky, the browns, greys and fading greens of the landscape and the crunchiness of the leaves and twigs on the ground.  And it also marks the beginning of the best time to curl up with a steaming cup of chai and a good book!

I’ve been sick recently, and just realized that I completely forgot to write a post last weekend, so I’m catching up now.  I had a book fair this past week at school and stayed late three nights, so I haven’t finished my book for this week yet, but I did finish one last weekend, Reykjavík by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jacobsdóttir.  This is the latest crime novel by this Icelandic author, and it’s co-written by the Prime Minister of Iceland, which I think is pretty cool.  (Maybe Justin Trudeau should co-write a mystery with Linwood Barclay or Robert Rotenberg!!)  In 1956, fifteen-year-old Lára takes a summer job keeping house for a wealthy couple on the small island of Videy, but one weekend near the end of summer, she goes missing and is never found.  The main detective continues to revisit the case every ten years or so, but by 1986, it remains unsolved until a young reporter, Valur Róbertsson, runs a series of articles in the local paper about Lára, hoping to uncover new leads.  When he’s contacted by an anonymous caller who provides cryptic clues regarding the whereabouts of Lára’s body, Valur begins to feel hopeful that this case may finally be solved.  But when tragedy strikes, someone must step in to take up this new investigation and follow the clues, wherever they may lead, in order to solve this mystery and finally lay Lára to rest.  This was certainly a page-turner, one of only a couple of Icelandic mysteries I’ve read, and I just read that it was based on a real unsolved case.  It was especially interesting because it was set in the 1980s, before Iceland became a popular travel destination and before Icelandic thrillers also became popular.  There were no cell phones or internet searches, just a basic investigation by a reporter/amateur detective, which was fun for this reader who grew up in that era.  It was also inspired by Agatha Christie mysteries, as Jónasson also works as a translator of her books.  It was a fun, gripping page-turner, not especially creepy or scary, but interesting and sure to keep you guessing until the final “big reveal”.  

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

Bye for now…

Sunday 5 November 2023

Strange book on a long-ish weekend...

We turned the clocks back this morning, so today is an extra hour longer, which is wonderful - I wish I could figure out how to manage this every weekend!!

I spent part of that extra hour finishing a very strange book by Canadian author Iain Reid called We Spread, which is a finalist for this year’s Governor General’s Award.  This story, set in Six Cedars, a small long-term-care residence in the midst of a forest, follows Penny, an elderly woman and artist who, after a fall in her apartment, is moved to Six Cedars, which she supposedly picked out with her recently deceased partner years before in case of such a crisis situation.  She doesn’t want to be there, but finds that, although she hasn’t painted in years, she suddenly feels inspired to start working again.  This, along with her increased appetite and her restful sleeps, lulls her into believing that this place really is good for her, that she’s benefiting from it in more ways than one.  She also enjoys the company of the other three residents, particularly Hilbert, a mathematician with whom she forms a bond, as well as that of Jack, a handyman and aide, a jack-of-all-trades who seems to like her and to want to help.  But when she starts experiencing confusion and loses track of time, she begins to suspect that all is not what it seems at this supposedly safe place, and she must do everything in her power to find out what’s really going on and try to save herself and the others before it’s too late.  This was a very short, very strange book, but I’ve read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by this same author (which has recently been made into a Netflix movie!) and thinking back, that, too, was quite creepy.  I think what Reid was addressing in this novel was the ways in which the elderly are marginalized in today’s society, stripped of their unique personalities, life experiences, skills and desires - he just goes about it in an interesting way.  It was certainly worth reading, and definitely sucked me in so that I wanted to find out what happened next and how it would all end.  I took out my Scrabble tiles to see if there was a hidden puzzle based on what I thought might be a clue at the end, but I gave up after only a few minutes, as I wanted to write this post before it got too late (I always forget that it gets dark so early when we change the clocks).  

That’s all for tonight.  Take care and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday 29 October 2023

Short post on a busy weekend...

It’s been a hectic weekend and now it’s Sunday night, it’s dark, I’m feeling sleepy, and I have a kitty crashed out on my shoulder, purring in my ear, so this will be a short post.

I wish I had more time and energy to write this week, as I read a  eally wonderful novel last week, Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.  I have read other books by this author, Bel Canto  and State of Wonder, which were also wonderful, and this one definitely lived up to my expectations.  During her brief stint as an actress, Lara Kenison had an even briefer relationship with up-and-coming TV and film star Peter Duke, but she’s been happily married and living on a farm with a cherry orchard for the past three decades.  During the first summer of COVID, her three daughters, one a veterinarian-in-training, one an aspiring actress, and one who will someday take over the farm, return to the farm to help pick cherries and to hear about the romance between their mother and Duke, whom they all loved watching on TV growing up.  The main settings for this novel are present-day and the summer spent at Tom Lake, where a small but well-known summer stock theatre troupe are rehearsing “Our Town” and other plays, and where Lara meets Duke.  What follows is an exploration into youth and love, aspiration and chance, luck and the power to control the direction your life will take, all told in the context of a time of unprecedented restrictions due to the pandemic and lockdowns.  Patchett lays out for us the pros and cons of the pandemic:  on the one hand, farms suffered due to limited migrant workers, actors suffered due to the inability to work on films and shows, students suffered due to college closures as well as limited jobs for recent grads;  on the other hand, some families grew closer and regained or strengthened ties since there was so much forced togetherness.  This reader felt like she was taking a break from cherry picking or working out in the fields with these women as the story of Lara’s summer at Tom Lake unfolded, and I regretted getting to the last page, as these are some characters I won’t easily forget. I especially liked one of he passages near the end of the book, when Lara, after considering how you can have hope at a time like this (ie COVID), says something about how loneliness and despair and joy and sunshine are all equally real and important and can exist alongside one another - she put it much better than this, but it’s a sentiment that will stay with me and help me get through tough or desperate times. It felt a bit like I was watching a play, not just reading a book. It’s a fabulous novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction. That's all for tonight. Stay warm and keep reading! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 22 October 2023

No post on a gorgeous fall day...

It’s gorgeous this morning, bright and chilly and promising to be a perfect fall day, a welcome change after yesterday’s cold, windy, drizzly weather.  I'm enjoying a steaming cup of chai right now, but I’m looking forward to getting out soon and taking a long walk to enjoy what may be the last good weekend of colour before all the leaves turn brown and blow off the trees.

I tried reading a couple different books this past week, but nothing grabbed me until I started reading Ann Patchett’s new novel, Tom Lake, which, so far, is totally riveting.  It reminds me of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance, except that, where Tyler’s book sums up the main character’s life by focusing on just three specific periods before the actual story begins, Patchett’s book provides extensive details about the main character’s life before the period during which the actual story is set.  I mean that Tyler’s book gives almost no backstory, while Patchett’s book is all backstory, yet they are remarkably similar.  But I’m only halfway through, so I’ll have to tell you more about it next week.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the amazing fall colours!

Bye for now…

Sunday 15 October 2023

Post on a chilly, windy, sometimes-rainy, sometimes-sunny day...

It’s bright but windy outside right now, but it’s been raining off and on all afternoon.  Still, we can’t complain, as we’ve had pretty sweet weather up to now, and it really, it’s mid-October already so I think these are fairly normal conditions.

I met with my Volunteer book club yesterday to discuss Ali Smith’s Autumn, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that most people did not enjoy it (one member said she hated it, but since I recommended it, she decided that it must be good so she read it a second time and enjoyed it much more!).  Only one member, who is new to our group, said she quite liked it, that she thought Smith wrote very fluidly, that it was not always easy to read and understand, but that at times it was very funny.  One member said it was “tricky”, referring to the way the narrative jumped around in time.  She was listening to it, so that would have made it even more difficult to follow than the print edition, since you can’t just flip back a few pages to help figure out what’s going on.  Still, we all found the relationships fascinating, particularly between Elisabeth and Daniel and Elisabeth and her mother.  We discussed real-life historical figures, artist Pauline Boty and model/activist Christine Keeler.  After the discussion, people were expressing interest in the other three books in this “Seasons” quartet, and everyone agreed that they thought differently about the book after discussing it than they did after their own initial reading.  This is the true power of a book club. 

I also finished reading the debut novel by BC writer Michelle Min Sterling, Camp Zero, a post-apocalyptic eco-thriller novel that speaks directly to our times.  In 2049, wildfires rage, the land is scorched, sea levels are rising, and the earth is nearly uninhabitable, but for the wealthy and elite, delicacies can be found and accommodations built in the Floating City, just off the New England coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Rose, one of the “hostesses” at the Floating City, dreams of securing a better life for her mother, who lost everything in the Hurricane that devastated the coastal region and who now lives in accommodations for displaced persons.  When an opportunity arises, she agrees immediately, and is sent up north to Canada, where the weather, unlike the scorched conditions in the US, is cold and fresh and the population is sparse.  She is brought to Camp Zero, where she lives with five other "Blooms" whose sole job is to work as hostesses, serving the needs of the men at the excavation site where a new community is supposed to be built, a utopian society and a new beginning.  But all is not what it seems at this camp, and when you throw into the mix White Alice, the climate research station “manned” by an all-female crew several hours north of the camp, you end up with a mystery, an environmental cry for help and a survival story with a feminist twist, all rolled into one.  This was a really great read, one I recommended to a number of people before finishing it.  I found the ending to be a bit flat, rather rushed, and not entirely satisfactory, but that doesn’t detract from the richness and power of the rest of the novel, one that warns of the environmental devastation waiting just around the corner unless we drastically change our ways.  It also reminded this reader why we should never send “most men” out to colonize Mars - you’ll have to read it to find out what that means!  Anyway, I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading post-apocalyptic novels or eco-thrillers.

That’s all for today.  Have a great week, and make sure to find time to read!

Bye for now…

Monday 9 October 2023

Thanksgiving Day post...

It was calling for rain today, but we lucked out and had only to endure high winds and cold-ish temperatures, which was fine by me.  It was perfect weather for a long walk and then an extensive housecleaning and switching over from t-shirts and sandals to long-sleeved shirts and runners.  I love switching over my clothes in preparation for fall and winter - it’s a bit like going shopping without spending any money!  (and usually everything you find is something you like and something that is the right size!!)  I didn’t reward myself with a hot beverage after the walking and cleaning, but I did make a delicious pot of pumpkin soup, and will enjoy a big cup tonight for supper… yum!!

I haven’t finished the book I started reading a few days ago, although I did finish a children’s novel, Honey and Me by Meira Drazin, but I’m not going to write about that today.  What I wanted to do instead is tell you about the audiobook I just finished listening to, The Winners by Fredrik Backman, the final installment in the "Beartown" trilogy.  This whopping 600+ page book (21+ listening hours) takes up where Us against You left off, two years after the end of Beartown, and opens with a violent snowstorm that leaves many people stranded and many trees destroyed.  We also discover that, sadly, Ramona, the owner of the Bearskin, has died. Due to this storm, we are introduced to new characters, particularly from Hed, Beartown’s rival town, and because of Ramona’s death, many former residents of Beartown are brought back into the story as they return for the funeral.  There are so many characters and plots and backstories and interconnected themes that I’m not going to give you any sort of summary.  What I will say is that this novel was so much more positive, so much more rewarding, and so much more deeply satisfying in a heart-wrenching, emotional way than Us Against You.  I found the second book left me feeling quite disturbed and anxious due to the focus on corruption and the negative outcomes of various actions, and I wasn’t planning on reading this one for a while, but I needed an audiobook and it was available, so I checked it out and managed to listen to the whole thing in less than the 21-day loan period, all 21+ hours.  If you, like me, felt disconcerted by Book Two, I would urge you to read Book Three before you forget what’s happened, although, as usual, there’s plenty of recap at the beginning - once this recap finishes and the “real” stories begin, it’s incredibly absorbing and completely riveting.  Hmmm… that’s all I’m going to say, except to warn you that it’s a long emotional roller coaster, so be prepared to shed plenty of tears along the way.

That’s all for now.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Bye for now…