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…

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

Friday, 15 April 2022

Early Easter weekend post...

It’s a funny kind of morning, bright and sunny, but with dark, ominous clouds appearing and disappearing regularly.  I think it’s supposed to rain this afternoon, so I want to write this post and get outside for a long walk while it’s still dry.

I was in the drugstore a couple of weekends ago and was checking out the books they had for sale, and a title caught my eye, Tales from the Café by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, which I saw was a sequel to Before the Coffee Gets Cold.  I put the first book on hold at the library and read it last week and it was… interesting.  This novel, which I believe is based on a play by the same author, is set in a café in Tokyo where individuals can travel back in time, but there are very specific rules, such as only being able to do this once, sitting in a particular seat and not getting up, and most importantly, returning before your coffee gets cold.  The novel centres on a small cast of characters who frequent the café: Nagare, the café's owner, and his wife, Kei; Kazu, the barista; Fusagi, who suffers Alzheimer's, and his wife, Kohtake, who is a nurse; a young woman named Fumiko and her (ex-boyfriend?) Goro; and Hirai, a young woman who runs a nearby snack bar.  Each of these characters has experienced loss or guilt over something in the past, and they take advantage of the opportunity to go back in time and hopefully alleviate some of this guilt.  But another rule is that nothing you do when you go back will change the present, so they are obviously hesitant to undertake this as well, asking themselves, "What is the point ?".  Still, when presented with this chance, who wouldn’t take it?  This was a quirky, whimsical novel that asks us to think about a time in our lives we would like to revisit if we could, who we would visit and what we would say.  It sounded intriguing, but unfortunately it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Still, I loved the title and it was very short, so I’m glad I read it.  I may even read Tales from the Café at some point, too, if only to see if it explains who the woman in the white dress is, but not right away.  

That’s all for today.  Happy Easter and have a wonderful long weekend!

Bye for now... Julie

PS I almost forgot - April 21 will mark 11 years of posting at Julie's Reading Corner. Thank you for continuing to read these posts and offering your comments. I hope you are finding interesting reading selections from here, at least occasionally!

Sunday, 10 April 2022

April showers bring May flowers...

Well, it should really read “April brings showers, sleet and snow/before the lovely flowers grow”, because over the past three days it’s been sunny, rainy, sleeting and snowing, and I’ve had to change coats and jackets many times to suit the temperamental weather.  Good thing my steaming cup of chai and delicious Date Bar are always reliable!

I’ve been trying to keep up with my reading for the Silver Birch committee that I’m on, and each weekend once I finish my weekly book, I try to read a couple of the junior books on the list.  I’ve been able to get through seven or eight over the past two weekends, even a couple of graphic novels, which gives me a sense of progress.  After reading my junior books last weekend, I had three adult books from the library to choose from, and I ended up selecting a novel with a really bright red cover that jumped out at me and turned out to be exactly what I needed.  Mindful of Murder by Canadian author Susan Juby is set on a small gulf island off the coast of British Columbia, where Edna, the owner of a spiritual retreat, has died under what may be suspicious circumstances.  Her former employee, Helen, also a former Buddhist nun and a recent graduate of the American Butler Institute, is the executor of Edna’s will, and one of her duties is to execute Plan B, an elaborate process whereby she will decide who will take over running the institute from a selection of Edna’s grand-nieces and -nephews.  This Plan involves hosting these relatives for ten days and having them participate in concurrent courses to decide who is the best candidate.  Since Edna had been on a self-directed spiritual retreat for several months prior to her death, no staff were retained at the institute, so Helen calls on her friends from the butler academy to help her out, as well as a friend who is also an amazing chef.  She also takes on one of the locals to round out the staff, and calls on two of the regular teachers from the institute to teach the floral design and dance classes.  When the relatives arrive, they appear to be ill-suited for this type of work.  Tad Todd is a handsome, self-absorbed, selfish young man who just wants Edna’s money.  His brother Wills is a bit less grating, but he also doesn’t really want to take part in this retreat that has been thrust upon him, but grudgingly agrees because he also wants her money.  Whitney seems to be more in tune with the spirit of the institute, but she, too, has plenty of personal and family issues and is also in desperate need of financial support.  And finally there is Rayvn, the mystery cousin, who appears to be perfect for the role and doesn't seem to care about money at all, but she also seems a bit too flaky and admits quite freely that her favourite thing to do is sleep.  Helen has her work cut out for her, but takes this responsibility very seriously and manages to keep things running smoothly with the surreal calmness associated with Buddhist mindfulness, despite the many challenges she, the staff and the guests face along the way.  After a couple of unsettling occurrences, Helen decides she must also help with the investigation to find out if Edna’s death was truly by her own hand or at the hands of a murderer.  Between the cast of characters at the institute and those we meet on the island, this entertaining, cozy mystery was a positively delightful read.  It was a mystery, but it also offered insight into mindfulness and Buddhist beliefs and values.  It reminded me of the “Isabel Dalhousie” series by Alexander McCall Smith, in that Isabel and Helen are both amateur detectives and philosophers/Buddhist nuns.  These books are gentle yet thought-provoking, and the protagonists are women that I would be happy to have coffee with (that’s what my book group said about Isabel Dalhousie).  So if you are in the mood for a cozy mystery or an exploration into the basic beliefs of Buddhism (or even the basics of being a good butler!), then this might be the book for you.

Oh, the sun just came out, so I better take advantage of this precipitation-free period and get outside for a walk.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 3 April 2022

First post for April...

There was a dusting of snow last night, but it’s mostly melted away and I suspect this may be the last snow we see until the end of the year.  It’s overcast now but the sun is supposed to come out this afternoon, so I’m planning to take a long walk once I finish this post.  But for now I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of homemade Date Loaf... yum!  

My Volunteer Book Club met yesterday to discuss The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, and it was a very interesting, very lively discussion.  Harris’ debut novel focuses on twenty-six-year-old Nella Rogers, an editorial assistant at Wagner Books in Manhattan.  She is the only black employee in the office and feels strongly that Wagner Books, and the publishing industry in general, needs to become more diverse.  She’s an active member of the Diversity Town Hall Committee, although since attendance is no longer mandatory, she’s often the only person who shows up at the meetings.  Her efforts to diversify seem to be ignored by management, which only adds to Nella’s frustrations at being overlooked for promotion after two years of dedicated employment.  So she is thrilled when Hazel-Mae McCall is hired as an editorial assistant, sure that she will finally have an ally in the all-white office.  Nella grew up in a middle-class family where she and her mother straightened their hair for years, and Nella worries about not being “black” enough, but Hazel is Black with a capital “B”, having grown up in Harlem, and she has always had “natural” hair.  Nella offers to help Hazel settle in and takes her under her wing, and at first, Hazel seems to appreciate this, but slowly, insidiously, Hazel begins to undermine Nella while at the same time appearing to encourage their solidarity as sisters, and Nella is left wondering what to believe.  Nella has been inspired by a book she read as a teenager by a black author and the editor who helped make it a bestseller, but this editor, Kendra Rae, disappeared shortly after the book’s publication and has been missing for decades.  Harris weaves these two stories together as chapters shift in time from 1983 to 2018 and are told from various characters’ points of view, and the tension builds until the propulsively riveting ending.  I had no idea what to expect from this novel, but it was heavily promoted in all the e-newsletters I get and it was on all kinds of book club lists, so I added it to our list, too, and I have to say that it was one of the best discussions we’ve had.  We all had similar responses to this novel.  We found it confusing and difficult to follow, but felt that it was a good book and we were all glad we read it.  We thought that it exposed us to what it would be like to be a black girl trying to live in a white world.  The book offered a lot of information about black culture and black thinking.  We also learned a lot about black hair care - hair was VERY important in this novel.  We talked about code-switching, something I’d never heard of before, but which was also a significant component of the plot.  We talked about so much more, but I can’t tell you anything else because I don’t want to spoil the ending.  I’ll just say that, although it starts off slowly and is quite frustratingly confusing for the first half of the novel, the story really takes off in the second half and I guarantee it will have you turning pages and staying up late just to find out how it all comes together.

That’s all for today.  Happy Reading!!

Bye for now... Julie