Tuesday 2 April 2024

First post for April...

It’s Tuesday evening and I’ve had a busy day at work so I’m not really in the mood to write a post, but it’s been more than two weeks since my last post and I don’t  like to leave it too long.  So, since I spent last week reading Silver Birch contenders which I can’t tell you about, here is a very brief post about one book I finished two weekends ago. 

I finished reading Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, and I have to say… WOW, it was all I was hoping for and so much more!  Unfortunately, I can’t even begin to describe the plot, so here’s a quick summary:  a young girl living on a potato farm in small town Idaho gets involved in a difficult relationship and runs away from home.  Twenty-five years later, she is called upon to return home because her father is dying, which she agrees to do, although she is filled with unresolved angst and does so reluctantly.  When she returns with her three children in tow, she is surprised to see that everything and nothing has changed.  Throw into this mix of nostalgia and recollected nightmares a trailer full of tree-hugging activists who are fighting the evils of big agribusiness and monoculture and you’ve got one heck of a story.  It is a story about biodiversity and the importance of saving seeds, about what it means to be family, about love and friendship, connection to the earth and each other, oh, and a lot about potato farming… I’m not kidding!  Despite that, this book was riveting from beginning to end, at times very funny and at others heart-wrenching and deeply moving.  I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone, and I think it’s going to be my Friends’ Book Club recommendation for our July meeting. 

That’s all for tonight.  Stay warm and pick up a good book!  

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 17 March 2024

Notes on a bright chilly Sunday morning...

It’s sunny and chilly outside this morning, reminding us that it’s still winter, even though this past week has felt more like late-spring.  It’s perfect weather for drinking a hot cup of chai, then heading out for a brisk walk, which is exactly my plan for the day.  I don’t have a book to tell you about today, as I’ve been reading contenders for Silver Birch nomination, so this is not really a "post", more like notes on my reading plan for the next few days, as I'm trying to get back in the habit of posting on Sunday mornings. 

After a week of power-reading juvenile fiction, I decided to read something just for me, an adult book that will (hopefully!!) immediately suck me in.  I opened a few books from the library but they didn’t work out, then I pulled a few books off my shelf to try and found one that seems to be perfect.  I have very high hopes for All Over Creation by Canadian author Ruth Ozeki.  I’ve read and really, really enjoyed A Tale for the Time Being, but not really enjoyed The Book of Form and Emptiness, both later books by this author, but I think this earlier one will be engaging enough to bridge the gap between now and the next time I start on other juvenile novels.  I’ll tell you more about this next week. 

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunny day, but stay warm!  

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Post on a Tuesday evening...

It’s been a really busy couple of weeks, and the one thing that I’ve let slide to make room for other things is this blog.  So while I’m quite tired right now, I’ll take this cat-free opportunity to write about the books I’ve read over the past two weeks.  WOW, I just checked the list of books that I’ve read (yes, I still keep a paper copy of this list!) and see that I’ve got three books to tell you about.  These will be brief summaries and opinions, as I thought there were only two books. 

The first book was for my March Volunteer Book Club, and it was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a book about censorship to (hopefully) be read during Freedom to Read Week.  I’m sure most people know what this book is about, so I won’t summarize it at all.  What I will say is that I enjoyed most of it far more than I expected, and found it a quick yet thought-provoking read.  My book club members didn’t necessarily “enjoy” it, but they appreciated the writing and the message.  We agreed that we didn’t understand the role of “the war” in the book, and wondered why it was even included.  We felt that it was not hopeful at all, and marveled at how many things mentioned in the book were actually part of our reality today.  How did Bradbury know what was going to happen 60+ years ago?  I think it’s an important book, one that needs to be read to remind us of the perils of censorship and the need to protect our intellectual freedom, a right that is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms but which faces challenges all the time.  I just wish now that I’d chosen a more uplifting book for April, but alas, we’re reading Katherena Vermette’s The Break, which I doubt very much is light or uplifting!! 

The next book I read was What We Buried, the latest book by Robert Rotenberg.  It arrived as a hold from the library and I dove right in and devoured it in a few days.  It features some of the same characters as his other books, but mainly focuses on Daniel Kennicott and his determination to finally investigate the murder of his brother Michael ten years earlier, which he believes is linked to the car accident that left his parents dead two years before that.  Daniel has put off going to Italy to the small town of Gubbio until now.  Michael was murdered the night before his own trip to Italy, and Daniel feels that the clues he needs to solve his murder lie in Gubbio, a town that saw Nazi occupation near the end of WWII.  Back in Toronto, Daniel’s mentor and boss, Ari Green, is conducting his own investigation into the accident that killed Daniel’s parents.  Were the two incidents connected?  And if so, how?  Delving into WWII history and blending fact and fiction, Rotenberg has broadened his scope and proven that he is more than just a crime writer of legal thrillers.  It was an excellent novel that provided details of the ruthlessness of the Nazi regime in even the smallest town in Italy, even as the Nazi defeat was imminent.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys legal thrillers or historical mysteries.  And even though it’s part of the “Old City Hall” series, this one can truly be read as a stand-alone with no background knowledge of any of the previous books.  As an aside, I happened to visit Rotenberg’s website and saw that he was coming to my local library for an author event two days after I finished the book, so of course I went.  And I have to say, he’s such a nice guy!!  He even offered to do a Zoom visit with my book club if we ever read another of his novels.  How awesome is that?! 

Then I read Verity by Colleen Hoover for my upcoming Friends Book Club meeting.  I’m not a Colleen Hoover fan, and had to struggle to get to the end of this book, an “unreliable narrator” sort of novel that has little-known writer Lowen Ashleigh being offered a job ghost-writing for best-selling author Verity Crawford who is unable to finish her series due to “medical issues”.  The offer is tempting, since Lowen’s mother just passed away, leaving her daughter in financial straits, and it doesn’t hurt that Verity's husband Jeremy is hot, hot, hot!  She ends up at the author’s house and tries her best not to get caught up in fantasizing about Jeremy while sifting through Verity’s chaotic office as Verity herself lies upstairs in a state of near-total immobility and speechlessness after a car accident that left her, well,  immobile and speechless.  Lowen stumbles upon a manuscript for an autobiography that she can’t resist reading, one that paints a very negative, very disturbing picture of Verity, and as unexpected events begin to occur, she faces the question of whether she should share this information with Jeremy or keep it to herself.  As things get stranger and stranger still, Lowen must act in order to save herself, Jeremy and Jeremy’s son before it’s too late.  I felt that this book was a bit of soft porn, right up there with 9 ½ Weeks and Fifty Shades of Grey (which I haven’t read).  There were entirely too many “intimate details” shared in this book, which was a surprise to me.  I also was not able to identify or connect with any of the characters, so it was challenging for me to stay engaged to the end.  But finish it I did, and am interested in hearing what the others have to say about it.   

That’s it for tonight.  Enjoy the unusually mild weather and enjoy the rest of the March Break!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 25 February 2024

Another Sunday afternoon post...

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, and I blame it on my cat’s neediness.  One of my cats is so emotionally needy that nearly every minute that I’m sitting in my reading chair, he wants to be lying on my lap, making it incredibly hard to write a post using just one hand (sometimes only two fingers!).  But he’s found another cozy spot to nap right now so I thought I’d take advantage of the ability to type with both hands and write a quick post before I start getting my supper ready.  

Two weeks ago I started reading Kelley Armstrong’s Murder at Haven’s Rock, the first in her new series that is a spin-off of the “Rockton” series.  This new series features most of the same characters as the original series, but with a few new characters thrown in.  Haven’s Rock, the new town imagined by and under the care of Sheriff Eric Dalton and Detective Casey Butler, is not quite open for business yet, but when Casey and Eric get a call from the project manager that two of her crew members have gone missing, they immediately fly in to help locate them.  When a body turns up, it’s just like Rockton all over again, dead bodies at every turn; it sort of reminds me of the small fictional British villages that always have such a high murder rate, except colder and more isolated!!  Anyway, while they are there to solve the case, they can’t help checking out the new town, this rare and unexpected sneak peek a real treat.  Haven’s Rock, named partly in honor of Rockton but with an emphasis on the “safe haven” part of the plan, is set in another remote location in the most northern part of the Yukon, but you won’t find this town on any map, either.  Strange, then, that so many individuals unconnected to the building of the town keep turning up in the wilderness for various reasons.  The plot and investigation is much like a middle-of-the-road “Rockton” novel, not her best, but not her worst (I don’t know if there IS a “worst”), but my guess is that the focus is really on setting the stage.  I definitely enjoyed it, and found it a real page-turner, although I found the plot to be a bit confusing at times in terms of the relationships between the new characters.  Still, the resolution made sense, but the real treat was the very ending, a plot twist I totally did not see coming.  And now the new book is out, so I’m planning to pick up a copy from my local bookstore soon.  Last week I read six juvenile fiction novels and graphic novels to make a start on the list of Silver Birch fiction (SB) contenders for next year, and this week I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for my book club meeting next Saturday, so I’m not really in a rush to get a copy, as I have no time to read it (I’ve got a stack of thirteen more SB books on the table waiting to be read right now!) 

That’s all for today.  Oh, and Happy (end-of) Freedom to Read Week!!  I thought it was next week, but it was actually this past week, so although it’s a week late, I would encourage you to pick up a banned or challenged book today!! 

Bye for now… Julie

Sunday 11 February 2024

Late afternoon post...

It’s late afternoon and I’m in that in-between stage of the day, where it’s definitely the end of the weekend, but it seems wrong to already be thinking about work… *sigh*...  That’s ok, as I have the upcoming long weekend to look forward to, and there are lots of exciting things happening at work this week, so it should be fun.

I read a fabulous book last week that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes satire or novels that mock traditional religions and also cults.  If this sounds like you, then maybe Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers would be a good choice for you.  In this novel, October 14 was the day that 2% of the world’s population disappeared.  Was it the Rapture?  Some believed that it was, but it made no sense, as “Hindus and Buddhists and muslims and Jews and atheists and animists and homosexuals and Exkimos and Mormons and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were - hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal saviour.  As far as anyone could tell, it was a random harvest, and one thing the Rapture couldn’t be was random.  The whole point was to separate the wheat from the chaff, to reward the true believers and put the rest of the world on notice.  An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all” (p. 3).  I love that passage and had to find a way to put it in this blog.  Anyway, all these people disappeared with no explanation, and three years after what the people of Mapleton, a small, typical US town, refer to as the Sudden Departure, family and friends are still trying to cope with the loss, the grief, the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness.  Some are trying to move on and lead what they consider “normal” lives, but their efforts are constantly hindered by a small cult group calling themselves the Guilty Remnants (GR), who dress all in white, take a vow of silence, smoke ceaselessly and take it upon themselves to follow these people and remind them of what they’ve lost - they will not let them forget.  Some others are so mired in guilt and loss that they have joined the Healing Hug Movement, led by spiritual leader Holy Wayne.  Still others join the Barefoot People, modern-day hippies who seek pleasure at every opportunity.  Mayor Kevin Garvey is a man who would love to move on, but his wife has joined the GR, his son the Healing Hug Movement, and his daughter Jill just seems to be coasting through life after years of academic and sports excellence.  What can Kevin do to help people move on, and how can he, too, actually move beyond his loss?  Kevin’s family members make up the central casting of this novel, but readers are treated to a myriad of community members who are all trying to cope in different ways and are at different stages of acceptance.  Never has a book exploring the different ways people grieve been so humourous  or managed to be both lighthearted and also insightful, at least in my experience.  Perotta certainly understands the human condition, and looks at the situation of loss and grief, and the ultimate experience of not knowing, from so many varied perspectives.  I borrowed the first season of the HBO series from the library, but I could barely watch it, as it was so angry and violent.  It seemed to miss the point of the novel completely, and while I didn’t think I was that invested in the book, I guess I am, as I had to turn it off.  Needless to say, I will not be watching the rest of it, but my husband, who hasn’t read the book, found it really interesting, so he may finish all three seasons.

And I hope to tell you about Kelley Armstrong’s Murder at Haven’s Rock next week.  I’m finally reading it, a year after it came out and just in time for the next book in the series, The Boy Who Cried Bear, to be published.  So far, it’s very good, like a “Rockton” novel, but not.

That’s all for today.  Have a good week, stay warm and keep reading! 

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 28 January 2024

Short post, lots of books...

I’ve been quite sick since last weekend and have barely been able to read, let alone write a blog post.  Still, I’m a bit better today so I thought I should at least give you the titles and short summaries of the books I managed to finish over the past two weeks.  

I finished our book club book, The Change by Kirsten Miller, but was too ill to go to the meeting.  This book tells the story of three women living in a Long Island tourist community. Nessa, Harriett and Jo, each in the throes of menopause, discover that they have special gifts:  the ability to commune with and command nature, the ability to see the dead, and possession of superhuman strength/heat. When a body is discovered in the bushes near the beach, the police write the death off as a sex worker who OD’ed, end of investigation. But Nessa, Harriett and Jo know this is not true, and they come together to find the identity of the dead woman and discover who murdered her. They meet obstacles at every turn, but fight back with their special gifts and find creative ways to uncover the truth while also seeking revenge on the men who used them.  I’m glad I didn’t go to the meeting, because I didn’t enjoy this book at all, and I hate going to a meeting where someone has recommended a book and I didn’t like it.  How do you talk about that without offending the person?  Anyway, I don’t think I would recommend this book to anyone, but don’t listen to me, as it was fairly well reviewed.  

Then I read the book I purchased as a “Blind Date with a Book” at our Christkindl Market in December, which I’d planned to unwrap and read on Christmas Day but that didn’t happen.  Finding Lucy by Diane Findley tells the story of Alison, a middle-aged woman who, upon the death of her mother, decides to steal a child.  She selects a gravestone for two-year-old Lucy Brown as a starting point, and moves on from there until she has successfully “rescued” a young girl from a poor, neglectful home and made her over into her own “daughter”.  Of course she has to move and start over as “mother and daughter”, but she manages this fairly easily. As Lucy grows up, though, she wants to know more and more about her past, a past that, of course, is all fictional.  Alison has her own struggles, obviously, but at heart, she truly thinks she’s doing the right thing.  Unfortunately, she didn’t anticipate all of these various complications, and the complex lies she would be forced to tell and keep track of over the years.  This book explores the many repercussions of abducting a child, not just on the child’s real family and community, but on the child and the new “mother”, too. It was pretty good, although I found it lagged about two thirds of the way in, but then picked up again to deliver a satisfying conclusion.  I’m not sure if I would recommend it, although Alison’s character was very interesting.  I wondered, throughout the book, whether she was on the spectrum, which, I think, would explain a lot.  I found Lucy’s adult character to be less interesting than her voice when she was a child, and I would have liked to read a bit more about the story of Lucy’s real family, but overall, it was a decent book that I think readers would enjoy. 

And I finished listening to a fabulous audio book, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, narrated by Nicole Lewis.  I just learned that this is Reid’s debut novel, and wow, this is definitely an author to watch.  This novel, set in Philadelphia, opens with a late-night weekend call from privileged White mom Alix Chamberlain to her twenty-five-year-old Black babysitter Emira, begging her to come and take her three-year old out of the house for an hour, as there has been an incident and Alix doesn’t want Briar to see the police.  Emira is at a friend’s birthday party and is dressed for the occasion, but Alix says she doesn't care, she’ll pay double plus cab fare.  Emira needs the money, so she and her friend Zara go to the Chamberlain house and take Briar to the 24-hour grocery store down the street ("the Whitest grocery store in town"), where a customer alerts a security guard, who accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar.  This ends up being resolved and Emira doesn’t want to pursue it any further, but another customer, Kelley, records the whole thing on his phone and tries to convince Emira to go public.  The rest of the book follows the ways these three characters' lives intersect, their pasts and presents, and the underlying racial tensions that just won’t go away, no matter how often Alix and others may deny them.  This book had everything - plot, dialogue, atmosphere, characters.  It’s hard to believe that Reid packed so much into such a relatively short book.  And the narrator really brought the characters to life.  I think it’s one of the best books I’ve read or listened to in a very long time, and I would highly recommend it to just about anyone.  And I dare you not to fall in love with Briar - so cute!!

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 14 January 2024

Post on a chilly, snowy morning...

We’ve had mild, snow-free weather up to this point in our coldest season, but I think we’ve caught up to our “snow quota” this weekend.  It’s been blowing and snowing since Friday evening, and I don’t think it’s going to stop until much later today.  Good thing I have a steaming cup of chai and a stack of good books to keep me busy!

I’ve always enjoyed books by British author Gilly MacMillan, such as Odd Child Out and I Know You Know, so I was quite excited to start reading The Nanny, which I had on my shelf.  When I started reading it, though, it seemed very, very familiar, and I wondered if I’d read it before or if it’s such a common plot that I read another book with the same storyline.  When I checked my blog posts, it looks like I started this book a few years ago but it didn’t grab me so I went on to something else.  This time I stuck with it, and it was ok, but paled in comparison to her other books, in my opinion.  This novel tells the story of Jocelyn/Jo, a middle-aged mother who, after the death of her husband and with no money and no family in the US, is forced to return home with her ten-year-old daughter Ruby to Lake Hall, her childhood home in a village outside of London, where her mother still resides.  She has never had any emotional attachment to her mother, believing her to be bitter and unfeeling, and has long been haunted by the disappearance of her beloved nanny, Hannah, during a dinner party when she was just a child.  Her own father died a few years earlier, so this move causes Jo’s compounded grief for the loss of both her father and her husband.  While she is having a tough time, Ruby seems to have formed a real connection with this grandmother she never knew.  When, during a boating excursion on the lake, Ruby discovers a skull, Jo begins to suspect that her past was not at all what it seemed.  Things become more complicated with the arrival of an unexpected visitor claiming to be Hannah, and what follows is a descent into Jo’s past where everything she believed is called into question, and she must discover who she can trust and what she can believe in order to save herself and those she loves before it’s too late.  This sounds like the kind of gothic tale I love to gobble up in a few sittings, and as I said before, it was ok, but not earth-shattering.  There were too many inconsistencies, and too many plot twists, and I found Jo to be a very frustrating character.  I think I enjoyed her other books because they are set in present-day, and maybe she doesn’t write gothic as well as regular mystery/thriller.  Anyway, if you are looking for a gothic mystery, this book may be a good choice, but I’ve definitely read better books in this genre.

That’s all for today.  Stay warm and pick up a good book!

Bye for now... Julie