Monday, 22 August 2016

Tea and books on a marvelous Monday afternoon...

I’m so thrilled to be able to write this post on a gloriously clear, bright Monday afternoon after a great bike ride and errand-running this morning… alas, it is my last such opportunity until next summer, as I go back to work next week.  *Sigh*  Good thing I love my job, and look forward to the challenges a new school year will bring!

I finished reading This Godforsaken Place by Cinda Gault last night.  This novel is set in the Canadian wilderness and the United States in the late 1800s, and tells the story of Abigail Peacock, a young woman who accompanies her father on a journey from London, England to Wabigoon, Ontario to start a new life after her mother passes away.  She attempts to embrace the adventure for her father’s sake, yet she despairs over her wretched life and cringes at the bleak opportunities her future holds.  The attentions of the steadfast, stalwart store owner begin to wear down her defenses, and as her opportunities seem narrow and uninviting, she resigns herself to a dull, dreary life as teacher and wife in a convenient marriage… until she discovers a love for shooting.  This changes her life, and as one situation leads to another, Abigail finds herself travelling on horseback to the US and joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with the likes of legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley and M├ętis leader Gabriel Dumont, all in an effort to fulfill the wishes of a dead man.  All of this is set against the backdrop of Louis Riel and the North-West Rebellion.  OK, so this was one of the books I was going to read for the awards’ committee I’m on, but it sounded so much like something I would never want to read that I thought I’d read a few pages and set it aside, but it was amazing!!  The main character, Abigail, was strong, opinionated, witty and intelligent.  The historical setting was interesting and the writing was superb.  The story itself was pretty far-fetched, and I had to suspend my sense of disbelief for most of the novel, but the writing and Abigail’s character held my attention and made this reading experience a memorable one.  Unfortunately, the last quarter of the book became a bit muddled and lost some of the flare that kept my attention up to that point, and the ending was rather disappointing (even if it did include a posse!).  Still, any book that can include the words “dastardly” and “calamity” and get away with it has to have some merit!  I want to share a short passage with you that demonstrates how intelligent the female characters are and how sharp the writing is.  Abigail is speaking with Annie Oakley over a pot of coffee early on in their relationship.  When asked why she left teaching, Abigail states, “I want to become something I have never been.”  
Annie: “You aren’t satisfied with who you are?”
Abigail: “Who I am has changed.”  
Annie: “That sounds odd to me.  I have never changed.  Quite the contrary, I generally have to fight to go on being who I am.”  
Out of context this may not seem as significant as it did for me while reading the book, but I thought it was brilliant.  I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10 - the rating would have been higher if the ending wasn’t so disappointing.  Despite that, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books with strong female characters who are smart and witty.  Actually, thinking about this now, Abigail’s character reminds me a bit of the main character in Nick Hornby’s novel Funny Girl, about Sophie Straw, a young woman who leaves a decidedly dull future in a small British town in the 1960s and moves to London, where she pursues her dream of becoming a female comedian on TV.  Both are well-written, if flawed, books with strong female characters, if that’s what you are in the mood for right now.

And I’ll tell you briefly about the audiobook I’m nearly finished listening to, A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch.  This historical mystery is one of the books in the “Charles Lenox” series, and is set in Victorian era England.  Once again, not my usual cup of tea (no pun intended!), but it’s surprisingly interesting, perhaps because it doesn’t dwell on exhaustively descriptive details about the setting or the costume of the characters, but rather focuses more on the interaction between characters and the development of the investigation.  This novel finds Lenox married and with a small daughter, Sophie, pursuing a career as an MP, having left the life of gentleman and amateur detective behind.  Taking the opportunity to leave London for a break while he prepares his speech for the House of Commons, he travels with his wife and daughter to the village of Plumley to stay with his uncle Frederick at the peaceful Everley estate.  He is drawn back into his former role as detective when a rash of petty vandalisms turn to murder during his stay and he is asked to help solve the crime and bring the murderer to justice.  This cozy mystery is gentle and engaging, and far better than I had expected, so I was happy to discover that it was part of a series, giving me plenty of other mysteries to read or listen to.  Though not quite finished, I feel confident in rating this one - I’d give it a 7 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries or cozy British mysteries.

That’s all for today.  Happy reading!

Bye for now…

PS Looking back on some of my recent posts, I've noticed alot of *sigh*-ing going on... is it because this summer has been so busy that I've barely had time to do any reading, and have not come close to completing everything on my "to-do" list? Or could it be a reflection of a different attitude or mental state when faced with plenty of time off and a string of hot humid days, a deep intake of breath followed by a long, slow exhalation? I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure the extra sighing means something... on that note, I'll close with yet another *sigh*... until next week.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Post for the "dog days" of summer...

We’ve certainly had plenty of hot, sultry days this summer, but I believe that this week was the longest stretch of hot days with high humidity so far.  Thank goodness I have air conditioning and a huge pile of books to read!  And, to keep me busy inside when it’s been too hot to go out, I also got a couple of new bookshelves from IKEA, and have transformed one area in the spare bedroom into a wall of books - it’s like a dream come true!  I have plenty of bookshelf space now, but the challenge is trying to decide how to arrange my books - do I group them by country, by genre, or alphabetically by author?  It’s been fun working on it a bit each day and handling books that have been on my shelf for years that I’ve never read and have nearly forgotten about - I’m discovering so many great novels to read right in my own collection!  I’m also copying my list of books read from 1992-2010 into a new notebook, as my original spiral notebook is falling apart, and it’s been interesting looking at my reading choices when I was so much younger and noticing patterns and cycles.  I’m only up to January, 1998, but I have high hopes that I will finish before I go back to work.  

I’ll be away next week in the gorgeous Georgian Bay area, so I thought I should write my post now, as I have two books and an audiobook to tell you about.  The first book is The Hatching by Canadian novelist Ezekiel Boone (a pseudonym for novelist Alexi Zentner, from right here in Kitchener-Waterloo).  OK, so right from the title, this book sounds ominous, right?  Well, let me tell you, it was creepy, creepy, creepy, right to the very last page... and beyond!  (there will be a sequel, Skitter - yikes!)  This novel opens with a group of Americans on a guided eco-tour in a Peruvian National Park. The group seems to be headed by a rich, cocky fat man, multimillionaire tech guy Ted Henderson.  When he goes off into the jungle to relieve himself, the group waits patiently on the path, but the guide notices that something seems wrong in the jungle, a silence that includes even the birdsong.  Henderson comes crashing out of the jungle with a wave of black following and surrounding him.  As it nears, the guide can see that it is not a wave of black water but a giant swarm of spiders, which proceed to attack the group members and devour them.  The rest of the novel is divided into sections, with different stories involving different characters and different events taking place in different areas of the world:  a remote area in China where a nuclear bomb is dropped on a mining facility; a university in Washington where an entomologist specializing in spiders is hoping that an ancient egg sac enclosed in an insectarium, sent to her from Peru, will hatch; a Marine Corps unit in California is waiting patiently for an assignment, any assignment, but what they are assigned to do is far beyond anything they could have ever expected; in Desperation, California, people are living in houses with fully-stocked shelters attached or nearby, in preparation for the last days, but the disaster that awaits them is not what they anticipated; and on a small island in Scotland, a young couple on a romantic weekend encounter a horror beyond anything they could ever have imagined.  I’ve always enjoyed these “nature-out-of-control” stories, ever since I was a kid and would watch those scary movies about swarms of killer bees that were heading up from Mexico and were attacking people along the way, so this book about giant man-eating spiders seemed right up my alley!  And it was certainly a page-turner.  At first I found it difficult to keep all the stories straight, but once I got into the book, I could see that they were all interconnected and were meant to demonstrate that this “infestation” or attack would not be isolated but would become a worldwide catastrophe.  It was pretty gruesome, and at one point, late one evening, after reading quite a few chapters and nearing the end, I had to put it down because I was starting to feel crawling sensations on my arms, legs and head!  But I finished it in the light of day and will look forward to the sequel, where hopefully all will be resolved.  But with so much death and destruction, will Boone find a way to end on a note of hope for the future?  It was definitely well-written, not great literature, but compelling and creepy!  I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10, but would caution anyone who has a weak stomach or a fear of creepy-crawlies to steer clear of this book - I'll admit that I've been looking at all the spiders spinning their webs in our yard just a little bit differently these days!

I also read a YA novel by Canadian author Shane Peacock, The Eye of the Crow, the first in his “Boy Sherlock Holmes” series.  I have read one other book by this author and found him to be a good writer, and I have the first two books in this series in my school libraries, so I wanted to try it out.  This novel tells the story of 13-year-old Sherlock Holmes in 19th century London, a half-Jewish boy who lives in relative poverty due to his parents’ unfortunate family circumstances - his mother is from a wealthy family but was cast out when she fell in love with Wilber, a Jewish man who was training to become a professor, but whose chances were thwarted by his wife’s wealthy parents when they continued their relationship and refused to abide their demands to end their relationship.  Sherlock avoids school, preferring to be on the streets learning about people and events through observation and reason.  His real interest lies in the police reports and news he finds in the crime sheets.  When the news of a murder in Whitechapel is announced and the arrest of a villain proclaimed, he can’t resist going to observe the guilty man as he is brought to the jail.  But he sees a boy just a few years older than himself, an Arab of Egyptian descent, who appears no more guilty of the crime than Sherlock is.  When the suspect locks eyes with Sherlock and whispers that he didn’t do it, Sherlock is compelled to search for the real criminal and free the innocent man, regardless of the risks he must take to find the truth.  It all spirals out of his control, and he is caught in an underworld where all is not what it seems and trouble lurks around every corner.  It was an interesting story, and definitely made me want to read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I have several collections of stories on my new bookshelf!), but I don’t know how well this novel would hold the attention of a young adult reader.  I certainly had challenges staying interested, as there was a lot of repetition, particularly describing Sherlock’s character, his physical demeanor, and his surroundings.  I know this book was the first in a series and is meant to set the stage for future cases as much as to relate the story, but it was less engaging than I was hoping.  But I will try the next book to see if it gets better - I guess this is the first series to look at the young detective and explore what events and experiences led him to become the greatest detective in history.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

And I finished listening to an audiobook earlier this week, The English Assassin by Daniel Silva.  This popular and prolific American author has written numerous bestselling thrillers.  I suspected that his books might not be my normal fare, but it was narrated by John Lee, so I had to give it a try.  This novel explores the Nazi involvement in shady art dealings during WWII.  The main character, Gabriel Allon, an art restorer by trade, also works part-time for a specialized Israeli Intelligence agency.  When he is sent to Zurich to restore a painting for a prominent Swiss banker, he is shocked to find the man lying dead in front of the painting to be restored.  He flees the scene, but is caught before his train leaves the station and brought in for questioning.  He is soon released and would happily have washed his hands of the whole affair, but is requested to perform one last duty, to visit the dead man’s estranged daughter.  Reclusive Anna Rolfe is a world-renowned violinist who is living in a villa in the mountains of Portugal.  When news of her father’s murder reaches her, she becomes involved in a complex web of lies and deception, and she reluctantly accepts Gabriel’s help in tracking down the man who killed her father and stole his secret art collection, a collection of paintings that had been acquired using underhanded means during the war.  As dead bodies pile up, the situation becomes more dire, and the determination of Anna and Gabriel to get to the truth and to reveal the collaboration between Swiss bankers and the Nazis compels them to keep searching, despite the dangers they face at every turn.  This was a “page-turner”, but a bit too unbelievable and sensational for my taste.  I prefer psychological thrillers that build slowly and explore the interrelationships between characters.  It was OK, but not great - in fact, it was exactly the type of book I expected it would be, plot-driven rather than character-driven.  As such, I would give it a 7 out of 10.

OK, that's all for this week.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Post on a lazy Sunday morning...

It’s been such a busy summer so far, it’s hard to believe we’re into the second week of August!  I have three more weeks off until I go back to work at my schools, so I’m feeling the pressure to increase my reading efforts, as I’m not even close to reaching my self-imposed quota!  Next week most of my days are free, but then it’s a week away, and then the last week of summer vacation… *sigh*  I’m actually looking forward to getting back into a routine - I certainly seem to do more reading that way!

My volunteer book group met on Friday morning to discuss On Beauty by Zadie Smith.  No one in the group had ever read anything by this acclaimed, award-winning British author, so we were all happy to have had the opportunity to do so.  This novel tells the story of two feuding families, the Belsey’s, led by liberal art history professor Howard, and the Kipps’, headed by ultra-conservative art history professor Monty.  British-born Howard lives with his family in a small, predominantly white college town outside of Boston.  His wife, Kiki, is an American who grew up in Florida, and who no longer resembles the slim, sexy black woman he married.  Their three children all have their own battles:  Jerome struggles to embrace his newfound Christian beliefs while the rest of his family are atheists; Zora believes that an intellectual life is ideal, yet she also struggles to be popular and have a normal social life; and Levi is on a quest for “authentic blackness”.  The book opens with Jerome’s emails to his family describing his life with the Kipps’ in London where he has an internship.  He can’t stress enough how “perfect” and “ideal” this family is compared to his own dysfunctional one back in America.  But this idealism is short-lived, and he quickly returns home after a romance with the Kipps’ daughter ends badly.  Fast-forward nine months and Howard finds out that Monty is coming to Wellington College as a guest lecturer for a year.  What could be worse than having to work side by side with your rival, an ultra-conservative at your liberal arts college?  But when the veil is lifted, it becomes apparent that all is not what it seems and that, really, all families are dysfunctional in their own ways.  This was certainly an interesting book to read, a real “slice of American life”, as one member put it.  We thought that most of the characters were stereotypes, not really three-dimensional, and that they were disconnected from one another and from society.  There were strong male/female stereotypes in this book, too, particularly with Howard and Kiki, Monty and his wife Carlene.  We all agreed that Kiki, Jerome, and self-educated street poet/rapper Carl were the most likeable characters, and that Howard and Monty were detestable (although we agreed that Howard may have redeemed himself by the end, while Monty… well, you’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself!).  One member said that it was difficult to read this book because it seemed to have no plot, but upon discussion, we decided that there were, actually, almost too many plots, and that many of these plots went undeveloped, that the book may have been more engaging if it was more focused.  As we discussed Levi and his embrace of what I would describe as black street language, I learned that this is actually called Ebonics: "American Black English regarded as a language in its own right rather than as a dialect of standard English." I have never heard of this before, so knowing this certainly shed light on Levi's character and his struggle. Everyone in this book seemed to be searching for identity, a search that is usually reserved for teens and young adults. Perhaps the older characters, Kiki and Howard in particular, were not so much searching for identity as attempting to reclaim it after years of losing themselves in their family and their work... hmmm... the "empty nest" syndrome? We talked about the changing roles of women, and how some people still believe that working women lead to the downfall of the family. We talked about Smith's skill at capturing the academic life perfectly, with all its ups and downs. Race, too, played an important role in this book, in both America and the UK, and Smith outlined some of the struggles black people face even in today's society. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that her style reminded me of John Updike, but I'm not even sure if Updike wrote this way, presenting a slightly satirical look at American family life... I'll have to read some of his books again to find out. It was an animated, interesting discussion that led us in many directions. While not everyone loved the book, we were all glad to have read it. I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10.

That's all for today. Get outside and enjoy this lovely, less humid day!

Bye for now... Julie

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Better late than never...

It’s the middle of the week, and I have only now found time to write a quick post.  The weekend was a whirlwind of family visiting and beach days, and not much time to read, but I have an audiobook that I finished last week to tell you about as I sip my tea - no treat for me today... *sigh*

I listened to Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon, a fictional account of what might have happened during the doomed flight of the Hindenburg in May, 1937.  Populated with actual passengers and staff, this novel details the lives and encounters of many of these characters.  Divided into sections by day (the flight took four days), the story is told from the points of view of several characters, including “the Navigator”, “the American”, “the Stewardess”, “the Cabin Boy”, and “the Journalist”.  Each is embroiled in a drama, liaison or personal vendetta involving other characters, and each may be responsible for causing the explosion that destroyed the airship, or know who is planning to do so.  From the very first page, the suspense builds as the lives and plans of these characters develop in ways so rich and complex that the reader is drawn into the turmoil and uncertainty.  There is mystery, history and intrigue, as well as two love stories, one tempestuous, the other tender and innocent.  The characters are well-drawn, the stories credible, and the suspense nearly tangible.  As an added bonus, this audiobook was read by my favourite narrator, John Lee.  All in all, it was a fabulous listening experience - I wish all my audiobook choices kept me so riveted!  I’d give it a 10 out of 10.

That’s all for now.  Have a great day!

Bye for now…

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Loneliness on a Tuesday morning...

It’s a bright, refreshingly “unhumid” morning, and I’m enjoying having the windows open again after days of air conditioning.  As I drink my steaming cup of plain old orange pekoe tea (and no treat!), I’m thinking about a recent book club meeting.

My “Friends” book group met last night to discuss The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, and the conversation was certainly animated.  In case you have not read this American classic, here’s a quick summary:  Set in a small unnamed southern town in Georgia in the 1930s, this novel is told from various points of view and spans about two years, ending in 1939. It opens with one of the main characters, Mr John Singer, a deaf-mute, enjoying a wonderfully close friendship with another deaf-mute, Spiros Antonapoulos, until Antonapoulos develops mental health issues and is put into an asylum.  Singer then moves into his own room and has to make his way in life alone, without any other real connections.  Jake Blount is another major character, a labour agitator who blows into town, gets drunk and is generally irritating to the others, until he befriends Singer and gets his act together… sort of.  Then there is Bartholomew “Biff” Brannon, owner of the New York Cafe diner, an observant man in an unhappy marriage.  Mick Kelly is a young girl who shoulders much responsibility for her younger brothers and strives to rise above her circumstances, aspiring to buy a piano and learn to write music.  Doctor Copeland is an idealistic black man who strives to change the circumstances for members of his race, encouraging them to also rise above their current conditions, aim higher and strive for more.  These four characters befriend Singer and seek him out in order to unburden themselves to him, despite the fact that he is unable to hear, although he is able to understand most of what they are saying because he can read lips.  No one knows much about Singer, and no one really asks about his life, nor does he share his details with anyone except Antonapoulos, and at one point in the novel, the narrator says that these characters all assume things about Singer that make him into what they want him to be.  We had a wonderful discussion.  Two of the members had read this book many years ago and found that this rereading offered a new perspective on the novel, mainly dealing with the relationships between the characters.  Written when the author was just 23 years old, we all agreed that this book showed a maturity and perception well beyond her years, and showed a bravery, too, as she dealt with many provocative issues such as race relations, poverty, impending war, and class structure.  One of the book club members commented that these characters almost deify Singer, seeing him as a sage and possibly mistaking his silence for wisdom.  She pointed out the that there is such a thing as therapeutic listening, a deep, empathetic listening that can help troubled individuals (I can't recall exactly what this type of therapy is called).  We tried to determine if there was a “main character” in the novel, or if all of the major characters were equally significant, a point on which our opinions differed significantly.  Several members felt as many literary critics do, that Singer is the main character around whom all the other characters revolve.  I felt that all of the major characters were equally significant, mainly because we as readers learn more about them than about Singer, that we are privy to their thoughts and feelings, their ambitions and desires, whereas we learn so much less about Singer except his desire to maintain his connection with Antonapoulos, despite their separation and Antonapoulos’ seeming indifference to his friend.  We talked about the major themes of love and loneliness and the inability to connect with others, particularly in the white community.  We noted that the black characters in the novel, including Portia, Willie and Highboy, experienced more of a sense of community than their white counterparts, but that Doctor Copeland chose not to participate in that community.  We discussed the overriding obsession with money, and thought that this was a “North American” obsession, that people living in European communities in the years leading up to WWII also experienced poverty and repression but that money (or lack of it) is less often the theme in European literature depicting experiences during that time in history.  There were certainly sexual elements to the novel as well, although nothing explicit, everything veiled in language that was vague yet suggestive.  Someone mentioned that McCullers was bisexual, which explained some of the relationships between characters.  It was definitely a hit with the group and an excellent book club choice.  I would give it a 9 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that explore the human condition.  It reminded me of a few books I’ve read recently:  Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and especially The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck.

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

Bye for now…

PS I follow the “Baileys Prize for Fiction” site and they recently sent out a list of the 20 Best Novels by Women as voted by Latitude Festival goers.  This novel and the August selection for my other book group are both on the list!  Please see link for the full list:

I’ve read a number of these titles, and may try to make time to read some of the others, too!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sunday evening post...

One of the great perks (and drawbacks!) of being off work all summer is the flexibility I have with my time.  I am no longer confined by weekly structure to write my post on Sunday morning after cooking and baking.  But of course, by the time I’ve had a long, wonderful day of sun, sand, beach and swimming, I’m feeling too tired to post… it’s a challenge, but if this is the biggest difficulty in my life right now, I’m certainly a very lucky girl!

And I’m lucky to have discovered an awesome book last week, The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin, a Canadian writer from Nova Scotia.  In 2002, she wrote a novel called Heave - it was very popular, but I've never read it.  Then nothing until this book, described by the publisher as “haunting gothic elements… reimagined in this strange tale of madness, murder and dark secrets...” (  Told from the point of view of the main character, Fancy Mosher, it tells the story of the summer Fancy turns twelve, when she and her friend Art went to work at Petal’s End, a huge mansion set on the rugged shores of the Bay of Fundy (although really, it could be just any old eerie mansion located almost anywhere).  Petal’s End is owned by the illustrious, infamous Parker family, who have been absent from the house for many years, and this summer, the elderly Mrs Parker is planning to return from the city for the season and revive the famous garden party.  As the Parker family members return to the crumbling mansion, Art, Fancy and the other household staff make an effort to restore order from the chaos into which the house and garden have descended. But the Parkers return bringing with them all their dark family secrets, which seep into the atmosphere of the house and garden as the summer days drift by.  And Fancy has her own family secrets, including her Grampie’s talent, which her drunken mother believes has been passed down to Fancy, the twelfth born, although Fancy herself is not convinced.  What this summer leads to is a downward spiral into madness and delirium for many of the key players, and that’s not even at the end of the book!  At about ¾ of the way through, I began to think things would have to take an upward swing, that they could not possibly get worse, but I learned that just when you think things could not possibly get any worse, they usually do.  This was certainly one creepy book!  Creepy children, creepy adults, creepy mansion, creepy garden… even the flowers and the swans were creepy!!  And don’t hold your breath for a happy ending.  It was a really compelling read, very atmospheric, but soooo long and included so much repetitive detail that I found myself losing track of the story on more than one occasion and having to go back to remind myself of what had happened.  The writing was excellent, although Fancy’s sporadic use of the vernacular threw me off a bit, as it was not consistent, and in my opinion, the book would have benefited from some serious editing - at nearly 400 pages, it seemed somewhat overlong.  Still, I couldn’t put it down, and would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading gothic novels.  I would rate it a 7.5 out of 10.  One of my favourite parts was when, after yet another horrific tragedy befalls members of the household, Fancy’s friend Art, also just twelve years old, bemoans the passing of his summer and his youth and proclaims that he wants the summer to be fun:  “I just want it to be fun!”  That sums up the story perfectly - sorry Art, there is no fun to be had in this novel!  So if you are in the mood for a not-at-all-uplifting-but-very-creepy-and-compelling gothic novel, this is the book for you!  Enjoy!!

That’s all for now.  Daylight is fading and so am I.  Have a great week, and happy summer reading!

Bye for now…

Monday, 11 July 2016

Happy Monday!

It’s Monday morning, and I’m drinking my hot cup of steeped chai on a cool, quiet morning, the first I’ve enjoyed since my summer vacation began.  You know that children’s rhyme, “Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”...  Well, last week my rhyme was “Bang-a-bang-boom, four men in my home, the plumber, the painter, the patio-door makers”, all week long!  And so, not surprisingly, I got no reading done at all, not even the book we were discussing on Friday for my book club.  I’ll give you a short update on the discussion, then I will tell you about an audiobook I finished listening to last week.

The book we discussed this month was One Summer:  America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.  I’ve read several of Bryson’s books in the past, travel writing about his experiences in different countries, as well as book about his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail.  These books were light and humourous and easy to get through.  I realize he has written others that I haven’t read, including a book on the history of the English language and a short history of “nearly everything” (I think that’s actually the title of the book!)  But One Summer was a lengthy look at the events that took place in America during the summer of 1927, including the nonstop transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh, the Great Mississippi Flood, Babe Ruth and the baseball season of the NY Yankees, the presidency of Calvin Coolidge and the beginning of the talking-film era with the release of “The Jazz Singer”.  The part that I read (the first 49 pages out of 450), was well-written and clearly well-researched, and I look forward to reading the whole book and savouring every detail.  Only two members were able to come out on Friday, and they had, thankfully, both read the whole book.  They discussed Bryson’s presentation of Lindbergh as both the heroic aviator and the not-so-favourable fascist-sympathizer.  His complicated personal life is also discussed in the Epilogue of the book.  They discussed the Cotton Club, an elite club where black entertainers performed for all-white clientele.  One of the ladies listened to this as an audiobook, which was narrated by the author - that doesn’t happen very often.  She said he did a good job, and of course, since he wrote the book, he would know how he would want it to be read, what parts to emphasize, what tone the book should have, etc., which are all factors that influence how a book is narrated.  I told them that, in preparation for the book club meeting, I watched the film “Double Indemnity” with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurry, based on the James M Cain novel of the same name, which was inspired by the tabloid sensationalized murder by Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray of Ruth’s husband, Albert (this story is related in detail within the first 49 pages of the book).  I told the ladies that Bryson had written these other travel books, and one member asked if he had ever written anything about travels in Canada, or if I knew of any book about this topic.  I have to look into this, but I’m sure such books have been written.  Both ladies agreed that it was an interesting, detailed book, perhaps a bit long, but well worth reading.

And last week I finished listening to a gothic murder mystery by Chris Ewan called Dark Tides.  I know nothing about this author, but the book was interesting, if a bit predictable.  It takes place on the Isle of Man and tells the story of Claire Cooper, a young woman whose mother disappeared on Halloween night when Claire was just eight years old.  Celebrating the Manx tradition of Hop-tu-naa on October 31st, Claire and her mother went out visiting houses and singing songs for treats. When they came back home, she put Claire to bed, and that was the last time she ever saw her mother.  Into her teens, Claire becomes part of a gang of friends who each take turns coming up with a dare for the group every Hop-tu-naa, dares both fun and dangerous.  One such dare gets out of hand and unexpected violence occurs, creating potential ruin for all six friends.  But only one friend suffers from the event, and life seems to go on unimpeded for all the others… until, years later, one friend dies on Hop-tu-naa.  This could be an accident, but the following year, another “accident” happens and Claire, now a detective with the Manx police, begins to investigate further.  As another Hop-tu-naa approaches, she and her remaining friends become anxious and try to safeguard themselves, but can they outwit the psychopath who seems bent on eliminating them all, one year at a time?  The tone of this book reminded me of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, gothic and descriptive and atmospheric.  Because it began with shifts in time periods, from present to past to sometime in-between, it was challenging to make sense of the story at first, but then I clued into how it was being told and how to fit all the bits together, and I could follow from then on.  It was complex and interesting, and dealt with a group of friends with a secret from their past, just my type of book!  The narrator did a good job of capturing the atmosphere of the story, too, using different tones to build tension and suspense when necessary.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys gothic mysteries, and would advise that you keep reading or listening, even if it seems confusing at first, because it will all make sense in the end.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine!

Bye for now…