Wednesday 28 December 2011

Post-holiday post on a Wednesday morning...

Against my better judgment, I will write a post today.  I'm feeling less-than-inspired, and I may be coming down with the flu, as I'm a bit achy all over, but I figured a hot cup of chai tea and some book talk may make me feel better!  Be prepared, this may be a shorter post than usual.

So I finished The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright last week.  It didn't take long to read, as it is a short book, but it is an example of what I described in an earlier post, a short book that seems much longer because it says so much more that you think is possible to say in just 229 pages.  I remember when I first started it and, at the end of that reading session, looked down at the bottom of the page - only on page 49!  I felt like I had read so much more than just 49 pages.  It is the story of Gina, an Irish woman in her 30s who is describing the process of having an affair with Sean.  After reading this book, I absolutely do not want to have an affair, she paints such a stark picture of the shifting emotions, the people involved, and the realities of such a situation.  She is a brilliant writer.  I will just take a few quotations from random pages of this book.  When describing a scene of the group at the beach, before the affair begins, she writes:  "Sean gave me the full flat of his face, as if to ask if I had some problem with the body of his wife.  But I had no problem with it, why should I?  I had problems enough of my own." (26)  Or when Gina is helping out at a gathering:  "I could feel it, still there under my hands:  thick blown glass with swirls, in the base, of cobalt blue.  Such a beautiful jug.  And then I let it go." (44)  Or when she describes her feelings after her first intimate encounter with Sean:  "My adultery - I don't know what else to call it - lingered in my bones; a slight ache as I walked, the occasional, disturbing trace of must... I also felt, as I went to pack and face the dreaded Sean, that the whole business was a little disappointing, let's face it - as seismic moral shifts go."  (36-37)  Her way of describing situations, in just the way we would not normally describe them, seems at once jarring and also perfect.  And although the novel is set in Ireland and the writer is Irish, there is nothing distinctly "Irish" about the writing, no Irish slang or turns of phrases;  it could be taking place anywhere.  I don't know what else to say about this novel, except that I highly recommend it.  In tone, it reminded me, as least at the beginning, of Anne-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees, in that she speaks directly to the reader as she describes a scene, then says she's getting ahead of herself, rewrites her description, and takes the reader back to a time before the scene to put it in context.  It also reminded me a bit of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, probably because it begins at a BBQ where there is a first encounter, an event that will change the lives of the individuals involved. 

I'm now trying to get through Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which is my next book group selection.  It is interesting and very well-written, but it is so slow and intense that I find I can only read a few pages at a time.  It tells the story of a group of people in an unnamed Latin American country who are gathered for the birthday party of a prominent Japanese businessman at which a famous soprano is performing.  These people are taken hostage by a group of terrorists, and the rest of the novel describes the events that follow this hostage-taking.  Upon further research, I discovered that this novel is based on a real hostage-taking situation that occurred in I think Peru in 1997, although I can't quite recall the details at this time.  The author takes us into the thoughts of each individual as they play out their part in this situation, which, as I said before, I am finding intense and exhausting to read.  I'm about one-third of the way through, and I have about 10 days before we meet, so I will plan to read about 25 pages each day to get through it in time for the meeting.  That should still leave me with enough time to also prepare some background information on the real situation upon which this novel is based, as well as some information on the author.

OK, I'll close for today.  While I don't really feel better, I certainly don't feel worse, so I guess the tea and book talk have helped!

Bye for now!

Thursday 22 December 2011

For something a little different...

Today's post is different for a couple of reasons.  First, it's on a Thursday evening, which doesn't happen very often.  The second is that I don't have a cup of chai tea in front of me, but rather a steaming cup of homemade zucchini soup - YUM!  I'll make a cup of tea later.

I recently received notification that an item I had placed on hold had come in and was ready for me at the library.  When I looked at the title, I had no recollection of requesting this item, and concluded that I had probably read a review of the book in a library journal.  The book was The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis,  translated from the Danish by Kaaberbol.  The novel opens with Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, opening a suitcase her friend Karin has asked her to pick up from a locker at the train station and finding inside a living, breathing, but drugged, three-year -old boy.  As I was reading, I asked myself "What would you do in a situation like that?" and came up with no useful answer.  Nina, though, is quick to react, and her story, what she does, how she discovers what has happened and where the boy came from, makes up a fair bit of the novel.  There are other, equally important, characters in the novel whose stories and connections to Nina and/or the boy are revealed gradually as the story progresses.  I found it to be a real page-turner, but I had some difficulty keeping the characters, especially the female characters, straight at first.  Once I had some sort of handle on their identities, this became much easier, but I did initially need patience in order to stick with it.  I would say, though, that my patience was rewarded with a well-written, interesting novel about the lengths people will go to save the ones they love.  It appears to be the first novel in the "Nina Borg" series, and the first to be translated into English.  This novel put me in mind of Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, which I had recently taken from my bookshelf with the intention to reread it, but which I reshelved when the reserved item became available at the library.  Hoeg's novel, also set in Denmark, tells the story of a woman who investigates the suspicious death of a child who lived in her building and whom she had befriended.  Both Smilla and Nina seem to have untapped intuitive knowledge and skills at understanding and escaping difficult situations and avoiding traps set by individuals who are less than kind.  It also made me think of other Scandinavian crime novels, such as "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy by Steig Larsson, and the "Kurt Wallander" series by Henning Mankell.  I haven't read the Larsson books, but I have read a number of Mankell's novels.  Although these novels are completely different than The Boy in the Suitcase, crime novels by Scandinavian authors, at least in this reader's experience, have a certain tone and feel that set them apart from other crime novels.  The same can be said of British crime novels, and even American crime novels.  I suppose everyone is somehow influenced by his or her culture and history, even authors, and this must inevitably be reflected in what they write and also the way they write.  I will save the comparison of crime novel characteristics for another time, but I feel safe in recommending The Boy in the Suitcase to anyone who loves to read Scandinavian crime novels. 

On a completely different note, I'm now reading The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and it's amazing!  I've read one other novel by her, the Booker-Prize winning The Gathering, which we discussed in my book group.  I found that novel a bit hard-going, as it was not really clear what was real and what was dream and/or memory, and, if memory, how reliable that memory was, but it was still a powerful novel.  This novel is much more staightforward but equally as powerful.  I'm only about a quarter of the way into it, but I can't wait to devour the rest.  I'll write a fuller account of this novel in my next post.

I'll close now, make that cup of tea, and settle down to a couple of hours' worth of reading, the best way to spend a quiet Thursday evening before the holidays. 

Bye for now!

Monday 12 December 2011

Monday morning book talk...

As I sit here enjoying the sunshine and, of course, my hot cup of chai tea, I'm reflecting on my reasons for creating this blog, which are twofold.  The first is to share the highlights of my book group discussions and the second is to share with others the books that I'm reading in order to make recommendations.

We had our book discussion of A Christmas Carol on Friday, and it was, as usual, lively and interesting.  Most everyone agreed that it was somewhat difficult to read and understand, as the language was challenging.  One member, who is a retired high school English teacher, commented that when this was originally written, it was written for children, but now students in Grade 12 can barely get through it!  I guess it shows that language really does evolve.  Who knows what will happen to the English language now, as we really enter the computer age!  Another member commented that it was easier to understand if you listened to it as an audiobook, as you wouldn't get bogged down in the individual words, but you get more a sense of the tone of the story.  After this comment, many members read their favourite lyrical passages aloud, and with feeling, which was wonderful, something we don't often do in our meetings.  Of the seven of us who were there on Friday, all avid readers, only two members have read this story before, which I found interesting.  We're all familiar with the figure of Scrooge, probably through the film adaptations of this novella, although of the five people who had never read the story, three of us had never watched a whole film version, either.  And yet we all know the story... interesting!  This begs the question, "Is it really worth reading?"  Well, one of my members commented that she wished she had read it 20 years ago to more fully understand the story and the characters, since she's never liked the movie, which her family members insist on watching every year.  This year she will watch it with greater understanding and appreciation.  I think this falls into Italo Calvino's category of "Books that you have heard so much about that you feel you've already read them, so now it's time to really sit down and read them" (or maybe that's MY category!!)  We all agreed that Dickens is a master at description.  As someone pointed out, when a director wants to make a film adaptation of one of Dickens' books, he/she knows exactly what each character will look like and how they will act.   I would say, based on the discussion, and the enthusiasm demonstrated throughout the discussion, that this book selection was a success.

I was at a get-together with some of my husband's former colleagues on the weekend, and someone asked me for some book recommendations, which reminded me of the other reason I created this blog.  Before everyone found new jobs, including my husband, I would often get requests like this from people with whom he worked.  I think the highlight of my Readers' Advisory career with this group came when I recommended The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, which everyone loved.  I have to say, it's been difficult to sustain that level of unanimous popularity with a single book since then, but I thought if I began a blog and wrote about the books I've been reading and offered a list of our book club selections, I may fulfill the RA needs of my husband's workmates.  I don't know how successful my blog has been in terms of meeting those needs, but I'm trying to help in the most widely accessible way I can think of.

And I've discovered, while trying to meet these other needs, that I genuinely enjoy writing about books.  It's a great way to reflect on what I've read, not just my book club selections, and think about why I liked or didn't like something.  This has really helped me define my own reading tastes and put into perspective my responses to books and authors.  I'm so glad to have this opportunity to write about and share my book thoughts with you on a weekly basis.  Thanks for listening!!

And as I finish my tea, I'll also wrap up my post for today ...

Bye for now!

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Another "book and tea" morning...

Winter is definitely here, but it's warm and cozy inside as I sip my chai tea and think about what I've read and am reading since my last post.

I finished reading A Christmas Carol on the weekend, but I won't comment on it until after my book club discussion on Friday, our last discussion of 2011.

After my rant about Robotham's book in my last post, and being unable to choose another book to read, I started rereading The Suspect, and it is proving to be just as gripping and interesting as I remembered it to be.  To use the tag-line of a fast-food chain which shall remain nameless, "I'm lovin' it!"  I really can't put it down, and although as I read parts of the book, I remember them, I don't remember what will happen next.  His writing in this book is, as I suggested in my last post, more low-key, but I wonder if it is also more gripping than his later books because the reader is just getting to know the characters.  Having said that, I already know the characters and I'm enjoying it much more than Bleed For Me.  I was surprised to find out that the author was not a psychologist in his former life, but an investigative journalist.  He offers such interesting insights into human behaviour.  In The Suspect, the main character, Joe, is treating a client, Bobby Moran, who seems to suffer from delusions and paranoia, and may be schizophrenic.  The author offers lengthy episodes when Bobby is in session with Joe, and the dialogue in these exchanges are, to this reader, very interesting, strange and insightful.  I wonder how he could possibly know what to write unless he had been a psychologist before becoming a writer.  There are only a few scenes when Joe is being a vigilante, going off on his own to seek justice when the justice system seems to be failing.  Perhaps that is another major difference between these books.  In Bleed For Me, Joe spent most of the book on these types of "adventures", and there were few, if any, episodes where he explores the psyche of a client.  I guess I can conclude from this that I enjoy thrillers, but I prefer thrillers of the psychological type.  In fact, when I am looking for something new to read and am using the library catalogue, I will often put in "psychological fiction" as a keyword search.  That is how I found Valerie Martin's Property, which, if you recall, was an unexpected but wonderful surprise.  Minette Walters writes psychological fiction/mysteries as well, and when reading her works, I'm as much interested in reading about why the characters behave the way they do as reading what they've done.  I wonder if that is why I had no problem reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but absolutely could not read Digital Fortress.  While I didn't love the book, I thought The Da Vinci Code offered a fast-paced, gripping story while also offering some historical and religious context which helped to explain the why of what was going on, why people were behaving the way they were, while Digital Fortress seemed to be all plot and no context.  Does that make sense?  I can't comment any further on The Da Vinci Code, as it's been years since I've read it and so don't remember it very well.  I think it's safe to say, though, that I need more character and less plot, or at least a combination of both, to keep me interested.

After that post about thrillers, I better close and get on with my "thrilling" day.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Book thoughts on a snowy day...

On this last day of November, snow is alternately drifting and gusting outside and it finally feels like Christmas is on its way.  My steaming cup of tea is a welcome companion this morning.

I just finished reading Bleed For Me by Michael Robotham, and I must say, while it was compelling and I wanted to know what happened next, it was not one of his best.  I found it to be overly long, unnecessarily complex and confusing, and excessively violent.  I think his first thriller, The Suspect, was his best.  It tells the story of a psychologist who is helping with the murder inquiry of a nurse who was a former patient of his.  As the case develops, the evidence increasingly points to him as a main suspect, and he must uncover the truth before he is arrested and found guilty of a crime he didn't commit.  Sometimes an author's first book(s) is/are his best, because, in my opinion, he is writing from within, being true to himself and not writing for an "audience".  Once an author becomes popular, I feel that he is often compelled to deliver what his audience wants or expects, not necessarily what he really wants to write.  (I'm trying to think of an example, but nothing is coming to me right now.)  This is not always true.  Some authors get better over time, honing their skills and perfecting their technique.  In terms of crime writers, I think Peter Robinson is a good example of this.  His early books are good, but he definitely improves over time.  Since he writes books in a series, his characters grow, develop and change over the course of the series, yet the stories that are central to each novel are interesting and engaging in their own right.  Anyways, long, complex crime novels don't always put me off (remember my enjoyment of Minette Walters' novels), but Bleed For Me, in my opinion, just went on and on, offering the main character's feelings, thoughts and opinions far too often while not adding anything to the story.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a "bad" book, it just didn't appeal to me as much as I was hoping it would, although I flew through the 400+ paged hardcover in just a few days.  Let's just say that, if it were the first book I'd read of his, I wouldn't be inclined to read another.  I think The Suspect was much more low-key, which must appeal to me.

I was having trouble coming up with a "next book" to read, and someone this past weekend recommended two very different books to me:  A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson and On Hitler's Mountain:  overcoming the legacy of a Nazi childhood by Irmgard Hunt.  The first, as I've been told, is a sweet, "wonderfully warm" lovestory set in Nairobi, while the second is not so sweet and wonderfully warm, as the subtitle suggests.  Both of these books are sitting on my desk at work, waiting for me to choose one of them to read, but last night, at the end of my workday, I brought home A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which is my next book club selection.  I have never read this short novel, in fact I haven't read many of Dickens' novels, but with the snow drifting and gusting outside, it definitely feels like the season for this novella.  In the past, I have read Hard Times for a class I took in university, then Great Expectations, which was prompted by watching a very bad movie version of this story.  It was difficult to switch my reading brain from "contemporary" mode to "classic" mode, but I'm now looking forward to it.  I'm not sure I've ever seen a whole film version of this story, nor have I read the book, so it should prove to be interesting and entertaining.  It will also, I think, be a "light" read for my book club members during this busy season.  I hope they enjoy rereading it, or reading it for the first time as I am.

That's all for today...

Bye for now!

PS Regarding last week's post and my feeling that I've "read this book before", it was, in fact, when I read The Last Weekend that I first experienced that feeling.  I really need to broaden my fiction topic selections!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Tea and book talk on a Wednesday morning...

For a change, this morning the sun is shining and it's bright and cheery outside, but still brisk.  I think November is finally here.

After my last post, if you recall I was in a book rut and was on the hunt for "the perfect book".  Well, much to my surprise and delight, when I got to work that day, Julian Barnes' new novel, Man Booker prize winner, The Sense of an Ending was waiting for me to check out and read.  How wonderful!  I'd never read any of his works, but the premise sounded interesting and it was short, less than 200 pages.  I like books by well-known and respected authors that are short because you can usually count on them to be interesting and complete studies of their characters and situations and to seem as if they offer to the reader much more information that is possible to contain in such a small number of pages.  I will use as examples Bear by Marian Engel and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.  These books offer stories with such depth of character and understanding that it amazes this reader that they are so short.  I expected the same from Barnes' novel, and at first it was delivering.  This novel is about a main character, Tony, and his recollections of his past friendship with Adrian, as well as each of their relationships with the same young woman, Veronica.  These recollections are instigated by a letter from Veronica's mother's lawyer regarding a small inheritance from her, which begins an investigation into the past by Tony that leads to some surprising revelations.  Sounds intriguing, right?  It certainly did to me, so I took up the novel with great anticipation.  By the end, the first thought I had was, "Thank goodness it was short!"  Which is unfair, really.  The writing was good, and I loved some of his observations, particularly the one about marriage being a long, dull meal at which you are served the pudding first.  But this novel got me thinking about other novels I've read that deal with recollections of an adult male who is still feeling a sense of rivalry towards his friend from adolescence, particularly if they have both been involved with the same girl and the friend had the better, longer, or more significant relationship.  I began to wonder why so many male authors, especially male British authors, wrote about this topic.  I recalled Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (which I really enjoyed), The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison, which I discussed in a recent post, and even A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which I haven't read for years.  While this last did not involve a woman, the others certainly did, and this significantly intensified the rivalry.  This led me to consider how I would have reacted to Barnes' novel if I hadn't read these other novels, especially the Morrison novel, which I read recently, and McEwan's novel, which I've read several times and have really enjoyed.  Perhaps I would have appreciated the novel more if I hadn't felt that "I've read this story before", which is exactly the same thing I recall writing in a previous post about another book, which may even have been The Last Weekend.  I'll have to check that post and get back to you, but that would be kind of coincidental.  Maybe it's not the writers who need to find different topics to write about, maybe it's this reader who needs to find different books to read!

Speaking of different books, I am reading Michael Robotham's Bleed For Me, and I'm really enjoying it.  In my last post, I mentioned that I began to read Bombproof but that it didn't "grab me", and so I returned that novel to the library.  I went on to take out this one, as it is part of the Joe O'Loughlin series.  Joe, a psychologist living in England, somehow manages to become involved in gruesome and dangerous murder investigations, and this book is no exception.  Since the main character is a psychologist, these novels often offer the reader some "professional insight" into the working of the human mind or suggest reasons why people do what they do that you won't necessarily find in other novels.  Robotham, though, is not a former psychologist, but an investigative journalist, so I wouldn't use his insights to try to figure out my own behaviour - it's just interesting to read these as they are imbedded within the stories.

And finally, we've been asked at work to send our Readers' Advisory librarian the top three books we've read in 2011, so last night I was looking at my list of books read this year.  I've narrowed it down to six:

What Was She Thinking: notes on a scandal by Zoe Heller
Property or Trespass by Valerie Martin
Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre
Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg
The Slap by Christos Tsolkias

Those are my personal top books read this year.  Hope you have a great "Best Reads" list of your own.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Wednesday morning tea time again...

On this dreary November morning, I was having a hard time coming up with a topic to write about.  You see, I've been in a book rut again, for both audiobooks and physical books.  After finishing The Ash Garden, I've tried reading The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg (not as engaging as Old City Hall), The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (too slow), The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (too dated), Q: a (timeless) love story by Evan Mandery (too youthful and "fluffy"), The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman (I may still go back to that one), Bombproof by Michael Robotham (I always enjoy his works, but this one didn't grab me),  Pitch Dark by Steven Sidor (too supernatural and horror-ish) and Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (too plot-driven and dated).  All of this in the last 6 days!  And for audiobooks, I tried Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler, The Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell.  I'm now listening to Fatal by Michael Palmer, but I may not stick it out to the end.  Making satisfying reading selections is clearly an ongoing challenge for me!  I started wondering why I've had such a hard time finding something interesting lately, and the only reason I can come up with is that, for the past four years, I have been a part-time student as well as working full-time, and so I had less time to read.  During that time, I opted to reread all of Peter Robinson's books, the "Alan Banks" series, in order.  Since I owned all of these books, most as mass market paperbacks, they were accessible and easy to carry around to work, to class, on the bus, etc.  So aside from my book club selections, I really had almost no book decisions to make.  Now I have so much free time, I need a constant stream of good books to keep me busy, as I can get through so many more books so much more quickly.  Thank goodness I work at a library or I'd be in real trouble!  Or maybe not... is this an instance of the paradox of choice?  I have so much to choose from that I can't choose at all?  Some of the books that I've listed above have been Advanced Reading Copies, not even books I've chosen off the shelf, so I'm not surprised they didn't work for me.  I'll just pass them on to someone else and hope they find a good home!

I think I will either read the next book in the "Inspector Lynley" series by Elizabeth George, the new book by Anne Enright that is sitting on my desk at work but that I haven't yet read (I think it's The Forgotten Waltz), or Italo Calvino's book If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, which I may or may not have read before.  If I've read it already, it was so long ago that I don't remember it.  Which is interesting, since in the opening chapter of this book, Calvino addresses the reader directly and, on page five of my copy, lists types of books that readers encounter, including but not limited  to:

Books you mean to read but there are others you must read first
Books you've been planning to read for ages
Books dealing with something you're working on at the moment
Books you want to own so they'll be handy just in case
Books you could put aside maybe to read this summer
Books you need to go with other books on your shelves
Books that everybody has read so it's as if you had read them, too
Books read long ago which it's now time to reread, and
Books you've pretended to read and now it's time to really sit down and read them

I have all of these types of books on my bookshelves, and sometimes it's difficult to make a choice.  I thought I wanted something now that is fast-paced and plot-driven, something that will "grab" me, since that last few books I've read have been character-driven and so a bit on the "slow" side (The Bell Jar, The Ash Garden, Notes on a Scandal).  Ah well, I will persevere until I find the perfect book to suit my needs - I will not settle!

Just briefly, my book group enjoyed The Ash Garden.  We discussed the war experience, and how that could cloud the judgment of those affected by it, directly or indirectly, making them act in uncharacteristic ways.  We talked about guilt and responsibility, about love and relationships, about causes and effects.  We discussed the responsibilities of government during wartime, and how these responsibilities may not always be as clear as they seem.  We discussed the ways language is used by writers, and the ways readers respond to this.  It was a great discussion, and we all agreed that this was an excellent, but not necessarily uplifting, book.

I think that's it for this morning.  I'm going to get myself another cup of chai tea, and try to get into a new book.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Tea and book thoughts on a cloudy morning...

I've been experiencing technical problems this morning, so I have less time to write than I had hoped, but I'd rather get a short post out there now than wait until I have a chance for a longer post, which may not be until next week.

I finished The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock last night.  It is my next book club selection, chosen because it deals with the effects of the war experience on survivors, and with Remembrance Day coming up, it seemed like a good choice.  I've read this book before (it was first published in 2001), and while I couldn't remember much about the story or characters, I remembered that I enjoyed it and thought it was well-written.  Having just finished it again, I still feel that way about this book.  The main characters are Anton Boll, a scientist from Germany who fled to America to help perfect the atomic bomb, his wife Sophie, a refugee from Austria, and Emiko, a woman who, as a young girl, was injured in but survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and has grown up to become a documentary film maker.  At the time of the story, she is making a documentary film about the bombing of Hiroshima.  Bock presents an interesting juxtaposition of stories in this novel, that of the creator of the bomb with that of a survivor.  It explores the psychological damage that the war, and the bombing, had on both parties, and explores how each person copes with their guilt and shame in one case, and blame and anger in the other.  I would recommend this book to anyone interesting in looking at these aspects of war.  I hope my book club members enjoyed it, but I have no doubt that there will be much lively discussion around this novel.

This book got me thinking of other books about war that I have either read or know about.  I have a short list, just off the top of my head and in no particular order:

The Thin Red Line by James Jones, which I have on my bookshelf and have been meaning to read for some time (I haven't even seen the movie!).  This novel takes place in WWII and explores the experiences of combat for the soldiers taking part in battle.

Three-Day Road by Joseph Boyden, which was the One Book, One Community selection a few years ago.  It explores the experiences of two young Cree soldiers in WWI.

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys, which I also have on my bookshelf and have been meaning to read.  This novel, set in WWII, explores the experiences of a young woman who is transferred from her job as a horticulturalist in London to an estate in Devon where she is to supervise Land Girls in growing potatoes for the war effort.

And on last book:  On the Beach by Nevil Shute, a post-apocalyptic novel set in WWIII.  The nuclear fallout which has devastated most of the world is moving towards Australia and those living there have to prepare for its inevitable arrival and their certain death by radiation poisoning.

What an uplifting list of books I've just presented!  There are plenty more where I've left off.  If I had more time, I could speculate about the reasons wars are so often the topic and/or setting for novels... maybe next time.

Bye for now!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Thursday evening tea and book talk...

I don't often post at night, but this is the first chance I've had to do so in this unusually busy week, so here goes...

I wanted to talk about a book I read recently that I absolutely could not put down.  You may recall that a film came out a few years ago, "Notes on a Scandal" starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, about a middle-aged high-school teacher who has an affair with a much younger student.  I went to the theatre to see this film, and then I borrowed it from the library so my husband could watch it.  It was an interesting film, but I wouldn't say it was one of the best films I've ever seen.  Well, I was reading book summaries in a fiction e-newsletter and the book upon which this film was based was mentioned.  I read the summary, then I read some reviews, and they all praised this book, whose actual title is What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller.   I found it in the library catalogue and placed it on hold.  When it arrived the next day, I read the first page, and I could hear Judi Dench's voice reading the novel in my head.  Although I already knew the story, I really couldn't put that book down, it was that compelling.  I think they did a fabulous job of adapting the book into a film, and the casting was dead-on.  I flew threw that book in just a few days.  I'd never read anything by Heller before, and I must say, I was totally impressed by the way she could make this reader feel compassionate towards two rather unlikeable main characters.  She also left many questions unanswered, and left the reader wondering just how unreliable the narrator really was.  I highly recommend this compelling read, but be prepared for some scandalous scenes.

I also listened to an audiobook written by Nicci French, Until It's Over.  Some time ago I listened to my first audiobook by this author (actually a husband-and-wife team of authors) entitled The Other Side of the Door.  While I found this first psychological suspense challenging to follow, as it is comprised of alternating Before and After chapters (I find it harder to follow time shifts in books when listening to them rather than reading them, as I can't easily go back and check who is doing what at which point in the story), it held my interest until the end and made me think that I might be interested in trying something else by this author.  And so a few months later I downloaded Until It's Over, which tells the story of Astrid, a bike courier in London who becomes involved in first a bike accident, then three murders.  She is considered a suspect until the end of the sixth part in the audiobook's ten parts.  Once the murderer is revealed, the rest of the book tells his or her story leading up to the murders.  I tried to listen to the rest, but this part was just not that interesting.  I guess this character and storyline, starting back when he or she was in gradeschool, failed to hold my attention, so I deleted the audiobook without finishing it.  I wondered if that was wrong, but knew I was done with this story, so I just did it!  I don't know whether I would like to actually read books by Nicci French, but perhaps I should give it a try, as I may have an easier time following the stories on the printed page.

That's it for tonight.  I want to leave you with a quotation (well, a paraphrased quote from memory) from another audiobook I finished awhile ago, The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn.  The setting is a nursing home in London, and a man is visiting his mother there.  For many of the staff at this home, English is not their first language, and the mother is complaining about this.  She illustrates her concerns by telling her son about a situation where she is trying to explain to a staff person that she likes her tea weak.  The staff person doesn't understand right away, but then seems to have an "A-ha" moment and she responds to her client, "Ah, week, week, not every day!", and the mother says to her son, "I haven't had a cup of tea since!" I don't know why I remember this particular scene in an otherwise unmemorable, but still enjoyable and well-written, book, but it makes me chuckle whenever I think of it. 

Bye for now!

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Book thoughts on a rainy Wednesday morning...

Rainy days are the perfect days to write about books, don't you think?  There's something about the rain that makes us more thoughtful and encourages us to curl up in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea and spend the hours reading a good book, particularly if it's atmospheric, maybe even gothic (maybe you can tell I'm thinking specifically of the works of the Bronte sisters, particularly Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights).  Alas, I'm not going to settle down to Heathcliff and Catherine once I finish this post, but to either The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock, which is my next book club selection, or The Grifters by Jim Thompson, which I have recently checked out from the library.

I want to discuss three books today, The Devil's Feather by Minette Walters, Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George, and Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre.  I finished listening to the Minette Walters audiobook while on vacation, and I was not surprised at the quality of the writing or the complexity of the story, characters, plot, etc.  She rarely disappoints in any of these areas.  I did, however, feel that the ending was rather abrupt for this novel, like there should have been more to flesh out the conclusion.  Since I was listening to it as an audiobook, I wondered if I had somehow missed a section, but I don't think that happened.  Maybe I'll find a copy of the physical book and skim the last few chapters to make sure.  Anyways, still a worthwhile read, even if the conclusion is a little brief.

I also finished reading Well-Schooled in Murder while on vacation.  It was pretty good, very complex plot and characters.  In this book, everyone seemed to have some guilty secret they didn't want anyone to find out about!  Interesting characters, love the descriptions of the settings in her novels.  From the windswept cliffs of the Isle of Skye to the deserted country cemeteries and the claustrophobic rooms of boarding schools, George describes it all with detail and skill.  She also writes convincingly of the class distinctions in British society.  While she is not my favourite British mystery writer (not even British!), she's definitely interesting enough to keep me reading her books.  Here's something a bit curious: I started the fourth book in the series, A Suitable Vengeance and found that it presents the characters in their situations prior to the very first book in the series; that is, Tommy and Deborah are getting engaged in the fourth book, but if I remember correctly, in the first book on the series, A Great Deliverance, Simon and Deborah get married and are on their honeymoon when the murder investigation begins.  The relationships between Deborah, Simon, Tommy and Helen play a significant role in the storylines of these novels, so I'm not sure why the author chose to write the novels seemingly "out of order".  Ah well, at least when I read the fourth novel, I'll finally figure out all the references to past relationships that are made in the first three books.

And finally, on to Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre, which I finished last night.  I haven't read many novels by le Carre.  I tried to read An Honourable Schoolboy a number of years ago, but felt lost right from the first because I didn't understand any of the lingo or jargon the author used, probably because it was political and referred to a whole world I knew nothing about, that being the world of British espionage in the 1960s and 1970s.  Ever since then, I've wanted to be able to read and appreciate this author's works, because, although I didn't read much of that first novel, I knew that it was extremely well-written, and that this was an author with great talent and skill.  Since that time, I've discovered the TV series "MI-5" or "Spooks", which has helped me tremendously in understanding the workings of the British Intelligence.   In the past few years, I've watched the film "The Constant Gardener", and then read the book, which was really well-written and interesting.  And I could understand the story because it dealt with contemporary issues, as opposed to the autor's earlier, and probably most famous, George Smiley novels.  I wanted to read more, so when I came across this paperback at the library, I decided to check it out.  With a bit of research, I found out that Our Kind of Traitor is his most recently published novel (2010), and that he celebrated his 80th birthday last week.  I believe that the film "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley is due to be released in December (I didn't know that before I started reading this novel, but now I feel so current!!).  So the novel was extremely accessible for me, who knows nothing about international politics.  I think having been exposed to "MI-5" helped with my understanding, but that I would have done alright without that exposure.  All of characters were interesting and well-drawn, especially Luke, Perry and Dima.  Their relationships with each other were intricate and evolved as the novel progressed.  There were many suspenseful situations where anything could happen, but there were also times where nothing happened, where the author writes of the mundane, but necessary, details when organizing and executing the type of escape plan that is central to the novel.  He doesn't make spy work sexy or alluring, but suggests that the reality is much more dangerous and ethically challenging than, say, Ian Fleming (to be honest, I've never read a James Bond novel, just seen the movies, so I'm making assumptions here).  According to a quote on the cover of the book, someone from the Globe and Mail states, "'Let me be specific:  I think the man deserves the Nobel'".  I would agree.

Oh my, I'm running out of time, so I better close.  In short, I would recommend all of the books I mentioned in this post.

Bye for now!

Monday 17 October 2011

Monday morning book thoughts...

I think this will be a brief post, but I wanted to talk about the book group's discussion of The Bell Jar before I forgot what we said.  I may post again later in the week with other book thoughts.

I had nearly a full house on Saturday to discuss The Bell Jar, which was a positive sign in itself.  We caught up on a few housekeeping details then launched into the discussion of the book.  Most of the book club members thought that it was depressing to read this and to know that the author, Plath, really did make several unsuccessful attempts to commit suicide and one final attempt that was successful, but that the book itself ended on a hopeful note.  Some had read the book before, but not all, so this was a new reading experience for some members.  We then talked about depression, and the prevalence of this mental health condition among women, particularly among teens and young adults, and what types of responses people suffering this condition have been and are still met with.  In the book, the main character, Esther Greenwood, experiences signs and symptoms of what we would now recognize as clinical depression as a young woman.  She is treated by electro-shock therapy which is done incorrectly by her first psychiatrist.  Her situation does not seem to be taken seriously by her mother, who comments to Esther that "I knew you'd decide to be alright again", and later by her friend Joan, who may or may not be a real character in the book. When she goes on to attempt suicide, she is transferred to a psychiatric hospital where she undergoes shock treatments again, but these are done correctly and explained to her by her new psychiatrist. These treatments are effective in alleviating Esther's symptoms, as she feels the "bell jar" lifting and hanging slightly above her, instead of trapping her in her own "sour air" as was her previous perception.  This is really a novel of its time, exploring the changing roles and expectations of women in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the misconceptions and stigma that surround mental health issues then and now.  Despite the fact that we were discussing a book that made it to the list of the Top Ten Bleakest Books according to AbeBooks (see link at right sidebar), I was surprised at how much laughter accompanied our discussion, particularly when discussing Buddy and his desire to show Esther his "equipment" and her response to this display (which may cause depression in men - just kidding!!).  I was pleasantly surprised by the response to the book, and the varied topics that arose in our discussion.  I give credit to my group members for being so open-minded and willing to read and discuss books that they may not have necessarily chosen to read on their own. 

I think I'll close for now, as I'm running out of time, but I wanted to be sure to encourage any who are shying away from reading The Bell Jar for fear that it is too depressing to go ahead and read it!  It's an interesting read and ends in a way that gives the reader hope for the main character.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Wednesday morning tea and books...

I take back what I said about the Minette Walters' audiobook - it is not too graphic at all, but extremely complex in plot and character.  She's an author whose books I can easily reread, as they are so complex, I have a hard time keeping track of the details and so rereading is never a problem.

Oh, I forgot to comment on the weather and my tea in my haste to correct the misrepresentation I offered about the audiobook.  Well, it's extremely bright in here today, the sun is shining through my side window right in my eye (I think I'll have to move!).  There, that's a bit better.  I love this time of year, when the leaves are changing colour and there is a nip in the air, you can put away your summer clothes and switch over to a whole "new" wardrobe of cool-weather clothing, and it's completely OK to wear black, brown and gray on a regular basis.  This time of year always makes me think of new beginnings, or starting a-fresh, which is strange since really nature is dying off and going into hibernation in the autumn.  I guess I'll always associate this time of year with going back to school, and since this is the first time in four years that I'm not taking a course or two, it's a good time for me to start a new project or "get organized".  I feel so energized by the cool weather, unlike the languor I experience in the humidity of the summer.

Oh boy, I think that's enough about the weather!  You can probably tell I feel strongly about this!  Anyway, I finished The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison last night and I must say I was rather disappointed.  It started off interestingly enough, with a late-summer weekend get-together of two couples who have clearly complex relationships amongst themselves and with each other.  The narrator seems a bit dodgy at first, but over the course of the weekend, his delusions spin out of control and he causes no end of grief for all those in attendance at the get-together.  Throughout the time I spent reading this novel, I was trying to recall which novel it reminded me of, and it finally came to me as I was finishing it up last night - Amsterdam by Ian McEwan.  The rivalries between the two main characters in Morrison's novel, Ian and Ollie, are very similar to those of the characters in McEwan's novel, both situations dealing with competition in school, careers and women, or more specifically, one woman.  I found McEwan's novel to be more interesting and engaging, but I wonder now if I would have enjoyed Morrison's novel more if I hadn't always had that niggling feeling in the back of my thoughts that I'd "read this before".  This is an example of one's "reading history", which I'd explored in past posts, and how each of our reading experiences is influenced by those books we've read before.  We can never "un-read" a book, and even if we don't recall all the details, usually something of a book sticks with us (well, I've experienced some books that were so "bad" as to be totally unmemorable, but I don't often read books like that - I like my books to "mean" something to me).   So would I have enjoyed it more if I'd never read McEwan's novel?  I'll never know.  Having said that, I enjoyed Morrison's writing style, so I will try reading And When Did You Last See Your Father?.  I saw the film version of this memoir that presents the writer's conflicting memories of his father and his attempts to find resolution to their problematic relationship as he helps care for him in his childhood home during his father's final days.  I don't often read memoirs, so I have no idea if I will enjoy it or not, but I won't know unless I give it a try.

I will be away on vacation next week, so I'm not sure when I will write my next post.  Probably not until after my next book club meeting, which will be on October 15th.  We will be discussing Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and I'm so curious about the response my book club members will have to the novel.  Some members expressed their reluctance to read this, so the discussion should be interesting.  I haven't read it for a number of years, so I hope I'll find it as interesting and well-written as I remember.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Friday 30 September 2011

Friday afternoon book thoughts...

I've been in a bit of a book rut lately.  Not just books, but audiobooks, too.  I've started at least three audiobooks, dedicated several "days" worth of listening time (that means the time it takes to walk home from work), and have stopped listening to and even deleting the audiobook from my player.  Now that's decisive - sometimes I will stop listening but keep it downloaded in case I change my mind, but not this time, I was that sure of my decision.  So thankfully I came across a Minette Walters mystery that I hadn't read or listened to yet, The Devil's Feather.  It's a recent novel (I think 2005), and a bit more graphic than I'd like, but it's long and her writing style is interesting, so I'll definitely stick with it.  It reminds me of Chameleon's Shadow (2007) in style, storyline, and even characters.  I listened to that one as well, and perhaps they were read by the same person, which may help me to detect similarities.  Anyways, complex plots and characters always make Walters' psychological mysteries engaging to the last page.

I tried reading several novels, the teen novel I mentioned in an earlier post, then read and finished Close Your Eyes by Ward (so unremarkable I can't really even remember what it was about, but engaging enough that I stuck with it), and one or two others, including Italian Fever by Valerie Martin.  You may remember that I really like Martin's novels, but this one was too, hmmm, "gothic" is the word I'm going to use, although I don't think that's quite right.  Not only did I stop reading that one, I made the decision to take out my bookmark and check the book in (but I wrote down the page I was on, just in case... *wink*).  Now I'm reading The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison.  I've never heard of this author or read anything else by him, nor have I read any reviews of the book.  What caught my eye and made me want to take this book out and give it a try is (and here I should be ashamed, but I'm not!) the cover.  We've all been told, all our lives, not to judge a book by its cover, and sometimes that is more than a metaphor for people and other things in life; sometimes it actually refers to books.  But how can you not form an opinion based on the cover of a book?  After all, it's often the way you first encounter it, by seeing it on a bookstore or library shelf, or you may see someone else reading it and it may look interesting or appealing to you.  And I believe there's nothing wrong with this, because you aren't really "judging it" by the cover; the cover is merely a way to attract readers to go further and take the time to discover what is inside the book.  I have no doubt that publishers put alot of money and thought into the cover design for books so that it best represents what the story inside is about (hopefully the cover design has relevance to the story, and is not just some marketing ploy to get readers to buy the book!).  What other ways do we encounter books or make our reading selections?  We may read a review in the newspaper or magazine.  We may attend an author visit and hear a reading.  We may hear about a book from others we know or hear about a book on TV (think "Oprah's Picks").  Books are available in places other than bookstores and libraries, too, such as Zellers and WalMart, and even the grocery store.  So we are exposed to books of all sorts in many different places and many different ways.

Anyways, the cover of The Last Weekend appealed to me, so I read the inside flap and thought it sounded interesting, as it deals with some of my favourite themes, jealousy, envy, and deception.  And it's about two couples who have known each other for years, the two men since university, and the deceptions that have been part of their relationships, both their marriages and their friendship, for years.  The terms "rivalrous friendship", "haunting", "brilliantly chilling", and "troubling revelations" are all used to describe this story.  I really enjoy novels in which all is not necessarily what it seems and things aren't easily and neatly explained away.  So while it was the cover that initially attracted me, it was the description of the story on the inside flap that sold me on the book.  I'm not far enough into it to comment on the story yet, but so far it's engaging.  I'll give a better account of it next time.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Friday 23 September 2011

Rainy Friday morning...

Once again, I didn't take my own advice.  Instead of "doing it now" on Wednesday morning and writing a short, uninspired post, I decided to "do it later".  Unlike going to see the movie that I suspected I wouldn't like, I think that was the right choice, since I have much more time and inclination today.  I have four topics in mind for today's post, and I'm not sure if I'm going to tackle them all briefly or if I will opt to go into one in-depth and leave the others for another time.  The topics are the book club discussion of The Bishop's Man and our discussion and comparison of ebooks and ebook readers, audiobooks, and traditional books.  The next is the visit of the One Book One Community author, Louise Penny.  The third is the book I'm currently reading and hoping to finish today, Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward, and the fourth is the book I started reading, and may finish eventually, but is now sitting unread on my desk, Valerie Martin's Italian Fever.  I'll start with The Bishop's Man.

I was thrilled to discover at the meeting last week that, of the members who were able to make it out, everyone felt that this book selection was "a good read".  People were reluctant to use the word "enjoyed" when they talked about the book, due to the difficult nature of the issues presented in the novel.  It's hard to say you enjoyed reading a book about sexual abuse of minors by clergy members, crises of faith and purpose faced by priests after more than 20 years of service, and the secrecy and cover-ups that exist not only in the church's hierarchy, but in small towns and within families.  But MacIntyre did an excellent job of presenting the main character, Father Duncan McAskill, as both guilty and innocent, likeable and disagreeable, and ultimately a character towards which the reader feels compassion.  It is truly an excellent read, one which presents the humanity of priests and men, and reminds us that those in power are just men.  As I suspected, most people in the group found the time-shifting passages difficult to follow, except, as one member pointed out, those passages in italics, because you always knew that those passages were taking place in Honduras.  But everyone also agreed that, in the end, it all came together, although there were no concrete answers offered to the reader.  Like truth, the conclusions were uncertain and different for each reader.  Brilliant!  I think I could safely recommend this book to just about anyone.

Before we even go to talking about the book, though, we had a full and interesting discussion about different types of "books", as one of the book club members received an ebook reader for her birthday and had some questions about it.  We discusses the merits of this type of "book", and concluded that there are times and reasons for which this type of reading format would be suitable, such as reading in bed, when books can get heavy to hold, and when travelling, when books are once again heavy.  But we agreed that the tactile nature of physical books was wonderful and could not be replaced by that which appears on a screen.  Then we talked about audiobooks and when they are a great alternative to physical books.  I use my MP3 player to listen to audiobooks when I'm walking or biking.  I know some people listen to books when they are cleaning, cooking, or driving.  The great thing about this type of "book" is that you can do something else while listening, whereas with a physical book, you can really only read and do nothing else (well, I have been known to read and walk at the same time, but that can be unsafe, especially when encountering stairs or traffic!!).  Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Children can listen to a book that is up to 2 grades above what they can actually read.  I don't know if that's true of adults, but I suspect that, at some point, our  ability to read and comprehend reaches its peak and plateaus, so I think this only applies to children.  Anyways, I thought that was interesting.

I've written quite a bit already, so I may just talk about the visit from Louise Penny to the Victoria Park Pavillion on Tuesday evening.  She and Waterloo Region police chief Matt Torigian were onstage together in conversation for about an hour, and it was a great discussion.  It mostly centred on her book, and the One Book One Community book selection for 2011, Bury Your Dead, but occasionally Torigian discussed the challenges he faces being in law enforcement and now being in a position of management and leadership.  He commented that the Inspector in Penny's novel, in his dealings with one of his officers, demonstrated "the humanity of leadership", which I thought was beautifully put.  He was interesting and well-spoken and made a nice conversational companion to Penny, who makes her living using language to express thoughts and feeling and to create believable characters.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, despite the fact that I haven't read that book or any other of her novels. 

One of my kitties is asking for some snuggle-time right now, so I better close.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Time for tea and book talk...

Well, I suspect this morning's post may be less about books than about movies.  I went to see "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" last week, and I was thoroughly disappointed by the film.  I wasn't able to take my own advice and separate the film from the book, and the film barely resembled the book.  I mean, the two main characters, Snowflower and Lily, were in it, but they were almost an afterthought to their contemporary counterparts, played by the same actors, that were definitely not in the book.  These characters, I think their names were Sophie and Nina, and their stories were the focus of the better part of the film, with fairly brief flashback-like scenes to the 19th Century story.  But I knew all of this going in, so I'm letting it go.  I just wanted to write about it and let you know that I would not recommend the film if you've read the book.  Having said that, as the film was ending, I heard another filmgoer behind me say to her friend, "That was good!", so who am I to judge?  (maybe she hadn't read the book!)

I finished The Bishop's Man last night, and it was as good this time as the last time I read it.  I find, though, that the challenge with this book is keeping the stories and timelines straight.  I wonder what sorts of discussions we will have at the book club meeting on Friday.  I suspect this will be one of the comments from the members, and I certainly think it's legitimate.  After all, I read this book just over a year ago, and now reading it again, I still had trouble following it.  But the best thing to do, as I know from my first time reading it, is to let it go and keep on reading, as it will all come clear in the end.  I look forward to our group discussion.

Now I need to find something else to read.  After I complete my post, I will have the rest of the morning to spend reading, but I have nothing new to start reading at home.  I have a couple books at work that I thought I might be interested in, one is a teen novel and the other is a children's ghost story.  I know nothing about either one, but they must have caught my interest at some point, so now I can give them a try.  I guess I can always start reading The Winter of our Discontent, as I missed my annual rereading this year.  Or I could start on the next in the Inspector Lynley series.  Hmmm... so many choices...

OK, that's the end of today's short post.  I'll write more after our discussion on Friday, maybe give you the highlights.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Another Wednesday morning...

Autumn is definitely in the air, and with it comes the urge to make something, so while I write and enjoy my hot tea, I'm also enjoying the smell of the homemade granola that is cooling on the counter - yum!

I finished Elizabeth George's Payment in Blood and it did finally "grab" me.  It was very good, and I enjoy a well-written British mystery, even if it's written by an author from California.  I'm now reading The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre for my book group.  I've read it before, but it's great, so I thought it would be a good book club selection.  We have many copies available at the library, so I started out with a library copy, but as I was rereading it, I realized that this was the kind of book I would want to read again and to recommend to people, so I went out to the used bookstores downtown on Monday and found a trade paperback copy (lighter and mine!), which is what I'm reading now.  I hope my book club ladies like it, but even if they don't enjoy it as much as I do, I'm sure it will generate much discussion.

I wanted to talk about the experience of watching a movie based on a book.  I'm thinking about this now because I'm planning to go to see "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" at the Princess Cinema tomorrow night.  When I saw the listing, I was quite excited, since we read the book of the same name by Lisa See for the book club some time ago and really enjoyed it.  It is the story of two girls in 19th century China who are determined to be "old sames" for life by tradition. They endure many of life's trials and share many of life's joys together through secret communication by sending messages to one another on a fan using "nu shu", believed to be the only written language that was used exclusively by women.  Through one miscommunication and misunderstanding, their whole relationship may be ruined, and it is up to the two women to work this out.  I may have the details wrong as it's been a long time since I read the book, but this is the gist of it.  Well, I knew it was being made into a film, and was thrilled to see it playing this week at the early show.  Then I read the description of the film, and realized that there are two generations of women portrayed in the film, one in the 19th century and one contemporary.  I didn't remember that being in the book, but I went to my bookshelf to find the book and check.  The book is only set in the 19th century, so the film, as I read further in the description, is "loosely based" on the book.  When I read that, I reconsidered going to see it, but I think I will still go, even though it will be different than the book.  This is just one of the dilemma that you could face in these types of situations.  Here are a few scenarios: 1.  you've read and enjoyed the book, then the movie comes out and it's a direct adaptation of the book; 2.  you've read and enjoyed the book, then the movie that is "loosely based on" or "inspired by" the book comes out;  3.  you've read the book but didn't enjoy (or understand) it, then the movie comes out and it's starring your favourite actor(s);  or 4.  you haven't read the book, but have been meaning to do so, then the movie comes out.  In the first scenario, you have to be prepared to accept the film in and of itself, and resist the temptation to compare the book and film adaptation.  An example is "The French Lieutenant's Woman" excellent film adaptation of an excellent book.  This is not, however, always the case.  Likewise for the second scenario, but this may be a bit easier than in the first since you already expect it to be different from the book.  An example of this is "Simon Birch", which was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meany.  In the third scenario, you can make the choice based on the merits of the actor(s) rather than the story, or you can hope that the adaptation will appeal to you more than the written work or be easier to understand.  I've found that this has happened to me when I've watched the film adaptations of Henry James novels, in particular "The Wings of the Dove", a fabulous film but a novel which I read and did not understand at all.  I think this is also true with film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, which are often very popular because they are more accessible than reading the plays.  The fourth scenario, not having read the book but wanting to see the film, is difficult because I have to decide if I want to read the book first or see the movie and then read the book.  I faced this when the adaptation of Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich was released in theatres, but I hadn't read the book.  It's a tough call in any of these situations, because, let's face it, the film version is almost always a disappointment when compared with the book.  So I try to always remember that a film is a different medium that a book, and so each must be enjoyed and/or judged on its own merits.  Films are visual where books are intellectual/cerebral(?), films rely on the skill and art of actors and acting where books rely on the skill and art of the writer and writing.  I'm sure there are other differences, but I'm running out of time, so suffice it to say that films and books are bound to be different by their very nature and essence, and must be judged as separate entities.  I think I will still go and see "Snowflower" and try to enjoy it for what it is.

That's all for now!

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wednesday morning tea and book thoughts...

Once again, autumn is in the air, so it is hard for me to believe that the next few days will be so incredibly humid.  The air feels positively fresh this morning, great for reading and drinking tea!

I've been in a bit of a book rut lately.  I can't seem to find anything to read that really grabs me.  I tried reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter, but it was too lyrical for me at this point, although the story sounds very intriguing.  Then I tried The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon, but it was too disjointed to suit my needs - I wanted a narrative that was written in full sentences and paragraphs, not half-thoughts and sentence fragments.  So I picked up a copy of Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman that has been sitting on my shelf for ages, a discarded paperback from the library.  I've been meaning to give it a try, since Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier is one of my favourite books.  I love the characters, the gothic tone and setting, the story, the dialogue, everything, and Rebecca's Tale got very good reviews as a companion to the original.   I've given up on it, since the voice of Colonel Julyen is one of a doddering old man rambling on about the past and denying his infatuation with Rebecca.  But only this morning I remembered that I read in the reviews that this book is written in four parts, narrated by Colonel Julyen, Terrance Gray (the journalist), Rebecca, and I think Ellie, Julyen's daughter.  So I may pick it up again, skip the rest of the first part, and give the other narrators a chance. 

But first I must finish Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George, the second in the Inspector Lynley series.  I found a paperback copy in a used book store on the weekend, which makes it light and easy to carry around and to read.  For some reason, it's not really grabbing me either, but I will stick with it and finish it.  Why is it not grabbing me?  Perhaps because I've seen this book as a filmed episode, so the story is familiar to me (although I don't really remember what happens).  Maybe I'm finding the characters too hard to keep straight (Lady This and Lord That, but with different real surnames - I think I need to make up a list of cast of characters and their relations to each other).  It's often very difficult to define why you like or don't like a book, but that is all part of the process of Reader's Advisory, and that is why reviews are useful.  They can give you a sense of the story but also of the pace, the language, and the characters.  I also believe that you can get a real sense of a book from reading the first few pages.  If you can define what it is you like or don't like about a book, you'll go a long way in finding other books you may like and so avoid wasting alot of time with others you don't care for.

Who knew it would be so difficult to pick a "good book"?!  I better get back to Payment in Blood.

Bye for now!

Monday 22 August 2011

Monday morning book thoughts...

It really feels like autumn is in the air this morning.   I love the cool weather and my cup of hot chai tea.  I'm especially relishing it since I know that it is supposed to be hotter and more humid for the rest of the week and into the weekend. 

So The Joy Luck Club was not a huge success at my book club.  Three of my members couldn't make it, and of those that did make it, at least one didn't like the revelations about the Chinese culture that were presented in the book and another didn't like it for reasons I can't now recall.  But we did agree that the themes of mothers and daughters, mothers' expectations of daughters and daughters' misunderstandings of their mothers' lives as girls are universal.  I think the most difficult aspect of the book was the challenges it presented when trying to remember whose story belonged to which mother, and which mother had which daughter.  This is Amy Tan's first novel, and I was pretty impressed with it the first time I read it, but this time, less so.  Next month we are reading The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre, a Canadian novel and I believe a recent Governor General's award winner.

I wanted to talk a bit about The Weekend Man by Richard B. Wright, which I finished last night.  It definitely reminds me of The Winter of Our Discontent, my favourite book of all time and the one I've read more often than any other book.  While not as good as Discontent in this reader's opinion, The Weekend Man has many similarities to the Steinbeck novel.  The main character, Wes Wakeham, is a likeable man who is more interested in contemplating life than making any decisions and being successful, which is very similar to Ethan Allen Hawley in Steinbeck's novel, who manages a grocery store and philosophises aloud in Latin to his wall of canned goods when he is alone in the store.  Both men speak of a sanctum sanctorum and both are perceived to be behaving shrewdly when they are really just being nice, accommodating, and indecisive.  Both men are tempted by women other than their wives and both have difficulty making commitments.  Wright offers this definition in his book:  "A weekend man is a person who has abandoned the present in favour of the past or the future.  He is really more interested in what happened to him twenty years ago or in what is going to happen to him next week than he is in what is happening to him today."  Wes makes decisions in his daily life by putting slips of paper with options into peanut butter jars and selecting one each day in order to decide what to have for breakfast and what route to take to work.  He talks of the "Saturday afternoonness" of his, and reflects on the "baffling ordinary sadness of my own existence".  This very much echoes Ethan's character and attitude.  In fact, the characters are so similar in attitude that I wouldn't be surprised if Wright was significantly influenced by The Winter of Our Discontent.  This would not really be a stretch, since Discontent was first published in the early 1960s, Steinbeck is a famous American author, and The Weekend Man was originally published in 1971.  I would love to write an academic paper comparing these two books, but that is for another time.  For now, let's just say they are similar.  I wonder what these types of novels are called, what genre or label can be placed on them?  When I describe The Winter of Our Discontent, I say that it is the move from innocence to experience for a grown man.  If the main character is a child, we call that a "coming-of-age" story, but it must be different for stories in which the main character is an adult with children.  Maybe loss of innocence is a lifelong process and we are constantly moving from naivety to understanding or experience.  This makes sense in a way, but the experiences in adulthood would be less dramatic than the first and probably most significant experience in childhood.  Whatever this genre is called, I like it.

I needed something to read this morning, so I looked on my bookshelf and found Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman, which I've been toying with reading for a few years now.  I really enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and have been curious about this companion novel for a while.  I'll give it a try and see what I think, but I have plenty of other novels sitting on my desk at work that are just waiting to be read.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Thursday 18 August 2011

More book thoughts...

This may be a short entry, as I'm low in inspiration and in energy, but as I've mentioned before, given the choice to "do it now or do it later", I usually opt to "do it now", so here goes...

I started reading The French Lieutenant's Woman last week, and was really interested in it.  The author writes extensively about the novel, and the characters, and is almost "talking to" the reader, to a far greater extent than I remembered.  I would have liked to stick with it, but I wanted to read something new, something I had never read before, so I picked up The Weekend Man by Richard B. Wright.  This Canadian author is probably most famous for Clara Callan, which I have tried to read a couple of times but could not get into.  I read Adultery a few years ago and enjoyed it, although I don`t recall what it was about (except, of course, adultery!).  The Weekend Man is about a guy in his early thirties, a textbook salesman who is separated from his wife and their child.  He suspects that there is more to be found in life than the routine he`s living, if only he knew what to look for.  So far, almost nothing has happened, which, for me, is usually OK in a fall or winter book, but not so good for a summer read, when I prefer more fast-paced, lighter fare.  But for some reason, I`m going to stick with this one.  Maybe it`s the detailed descriptions of the main character`s psyche and motivation for his actions, maybe it`s the format, condition and brevity of the book (tradepaperback, well-worn, 245 pages), but something is compelling me to stick with it.  I feel that if I reach the end of this novel, I may come away learning something new about the human condition. 

I think I`ll close now, but I may write again before the weekend is over, since tomorrow I have my book club meeting and I usually like to write an entry with the highlights of our discussion.  Stay tuned...

Bye for now!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Another Thursday evening...

And a lovely evening it is.  There's a cool breeze, the light through the leaves is dappled in the yard, and it almost feels like autumn is in the air, which makes me very, very happy.  I'm drinking regular orange pekoe tea, but it could easily be described as sweet and milky, just like in the British mysteries, where the relatives of the murder victims are always given a cup of "sweet, milky tea".  Which reminds me - I was going to write an entry which explores the differences between British mysteries and American mysteries (but that's for another time).

Tonight I want to talk about metafiction.  I was talking to a woman at work recently and she told me she was reading a great book, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.  I haven't read that novel in years, but had to agree with her-I remember it being very good, and have decided to read it again soon.  We then talked about the way the author injects himself and the present into the story, and she said this was an example of metafiction.  I have heard this term before, but never really gave it much thought until just after this conversation.  I think a simple definition of this term is this:  metafiction is fiction about fiction, or fiction that is aware of itself.  So any time the author addresses the reader directly, or there is a story within a story, or a writer is a main character who may or may not be writing about what is happening in the story could be considered metafiction.  I got to thinking of some examples (and I looked it up on Wikipedia, too!).  My first thought was the scene in Jane Eyre when Jane proclaims, "Reader, I married him."  I think that would loosely fit into the parameters, although I believe that this was an isolated occurrence in that novel.  What about Angels and Insects by A.S. Byatt?  The governess writes a children's story that mirrors the situation she and the male character she loves are in.  And Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin.  Although I haven't read the whole novel, I recall that the main character is writing a story, too.  In Ian McEwan's Atonement, the main character becomes a writer and writes about the situations in her life that are described earlier in the book.  There are surely others, perhaps Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, especially The Locked Room, although it's been years since I've read those, too, so I can't be sure.  I was reading a children's picture book in preparation for a storytime this weekend, The Wonderful Book  by Leonid Gore.  It's the story of a book that is found in the forest by a bunny who thinks it's a house, a bear who thinks it's a hat, a family of mice who use it as a table, a fox who thinks it's a bed, and a worm who wants to eat it for lunch, but it is saved from this fate by a boy who finds it and recognizes it for what it truly is, a book to be read.  The forest creatures gather around to hear the boy read a story about a bunny, a bear, a family of mice, a fox, and a worm.  The boy is reading the book that we've just read!  That's pretty cool (and pretty "meta")!

I think "meta" is a term that could also be applied to film, a film that is aware of being a film.  "The Truman Show" is a movie about a guy who is the star of a reality show, although he doesn't know that his life really a TV show.  The film "Adaptation" is a film about the struggles a screenwriter faces while adapting a novel into a film, the same novel on which the film itself is based.  "Being John Malkovich" is also self-reflective (or is it self-reflexive?) in that John Malkovich plays a fictionalized version of himself.  It's like a maze within a maze within another maze... 

All that "meta-thinking" is making my head foggy.  I better close now and finish The Joy Luck Club.

Bye for now!

Thursday 4 August 2011

Book thoughts on a Thursday evening...

Wow, I hardly ever write in the evening - it seems so different than writing in the morning.  Although I'm steeping my chai tea even as I write, somehow writing and drinking tea in the morning holds anticipation and expectation for the day ahead, while partaking of these activities in the evening carries with it the sense of winding down.  Even my kitties are sleeping!

I finished The Slap a couple of days ago, and it was as I expected, not really uplifting, but interesting, complex and intriguing.  A book like this really makes you think about your actions, and the effects your actions and decisions may have on your own life and the lives of others, intentional or not.  I mentioned in my last blog entry that I have read other books that present these types of situations but could not remember any titles offhand.  Well, I have a couple of titles that I've read within the past year that offer this type of situation.  The Memory-Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards is one of these novels.  The decision of the husband regarding his children has long-term effects on his own life, the lives of his family members, and others, often in unexpected ways.  A Perfect Night To Go To China by David Gilmour is another title where one action sets in motion a string of events that touch the lives of all those involved.  On the lighter side, Happiness by Will Ferguson offers this type of story but the effects of the action or decision are presented in a more comical way.  All very interesting reads, ones that make you think, "If only he or she had done this instead of that."  But getting back to The Slap, the novel was written in a way that presented the setting and the event in the first chapter, then devoted a chapter to individual characters to tell their stories, and these usually presented enough background information that the reader could then understand the characters' actions or responses to the actions of others.  I didn't always understand why one character was given a chapter but another, who seemed much more significant to the story, was excluded.  It was a difficult (as in intimate, emotional, and complex) book to read, and I imagine it was more difficult to write.  I don't think it was perfect, but it certainly tackled difficult subjects (child abuse and tolerance to violence in society, alcoholism and drug use, and adultery) and presented a broad range of three-dimensional characters in a successful, realistic way.  Kudos to Chris Tsiolkas for being brave enough to write this book.

I'm listening to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as an audiobook, and as always, I'm enjoying the detail and complexity of her cozy mysteries.  I've listened to a few of her mysteries, The Body in the Library, The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and I've read a few titles, too.  But I think I will try to read more of her novels and to find out about her personal and literary life.  I'm already thinking about putting together a list of book club selections for next year, and I'm going to suggest for our October 2012 book club meeting that we each read a different mystery and tell the group about it.  I like to choose something sort of scary or suspenseful for October, being close to Hallowe'en.  In the past we've discussed a Minette Walters mystery, Canoe Lake by Roy MacGregor (I had just been to Algonquin Park for vacation) and Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.  I hope the suggestion to read novels by the "Queen of Crime" will be met with enthusiasm.

That's all for tonight.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Wednesday morning tea and book thoughts...

What a clear, fresh, lovely Wednesday morning!  My tea is steaming in my beautiful mug, I'm listening to classical piano on CBC Radio Two, and I'm going to write about books - I'd say this is practically a perfect morning!

I finished listening to The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman last night, and as I mentioned in a previous entry, it's not uplifting at all.  In fact, the only positive aspect of this book I can think of is that we know WWII eventually ends (I feel I can safely say that without giving away any of the plot).  But I learned alot about pre-WWII Germany, I appreciated the work the author put into expressing his thoughts and creating a coherent story, and I discovered a new author.  In my mind, that is a win-win situation.

I'm reading The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas right now.  I'm about half-way through this rather thick trade paperback set in Australia about what happens to a group of friends when a man at a barbeque slaps a child who is not his own.  This Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2009 Best Book Winner is riveting to this reader because the situations, individuals and relationships that are explored in this novel are complex and all-too-real.  I enjoy books that present a situation in a character's life where, in an instant, his or her whole life changes forever.  I wonder how many of us have had instances like that in our lives, where one decision, one action, one choice affected the rest of our lives?  I can certainly think of a few choices I've made that have changed the entire course of my life.  Sometimes we wish we could go back to the moment before that act and change our action, sometimes we're happy we chose to act as we did.  I've read others that deal with these types of life-changing situations, but I can't think of any offhand - I'll have to go through the list of books that I've read to find other examples.  Anyways, The Slap is probably not going to be uplifting, either;  at least it's not uplifting so far.  But it is very interesting.  I haven't read many Australian authors - Bryce Courtenay and Peter Carey may be the only ones.  So Tsiolkas' novel is interesting on a number of levels, a glimpse into the lives of a group of average Australian people, relationships ,and dealing with the results of impulsive actions, to name a few.  I'm looking forward to finishing it.

And finally, my book group agreed on The Joy Luck Club for our August selection.  One member, who is a former high school English teacher, said she's read it quite a few times because her students often chose that novel for independent study projects, but she agreed to read it again for our next meeting.  I haven't read it for years, but think it's definitely a good book club selection, as it presents much that can be discussed.  And I think its themes are universal and timeless.  I hope they like it!

Time to go and read some more before getting ready for work.

Bye for now!

Friday 22 July 2011

Friday evening post...

I'm all out of sorts this week, due to the heat and a general sense of lethargy.  This post (late!) will likely be brief, although I have lots to write about.  I'm lacking time and enthusiasm right now, but I often try, when faced with the choice of doing something now or doing it later, to do it now.  So I'm writing now.

My book club met today to discuss The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.  I was so worried that they wouldn't like it, that it was too difficult to get a copy and it wasn't worth the effort to read it, that it was dated, that they wouldn't like the characters; in short, all the usual worries I have when I've put on our list one of my favourite books.  But of the 6 members who showed up today, only 2 didn't really like it, but did not despise it vehemently.  And of the other 4 members, at least 3 really liked it, and the other found the characters and situations maddening but couldn't wait to finish it to find out what happened.  We spent more than 2 hours discussing it, and still we could have talked about it for much longer, but we had to go.  I'd say that represents a successful book club selection.  We talked about the characters, their interactions, philosophy, Hinduism and Christianity, India, spirituality, sincere release from worldly goods versus that which is just for show, relationships, whether marriage without deep love and passion can be happy, and many other complex and interesting topics that are explored in the novel.  We also talked about Maugham as a writer and a person.  In my not-very-indepth research on him (I love Wikipedia!), I found out that he had been the highest paid author in the 1930s, bisexual, and a British spy in WWI.  A collection of short stories based on his experiences as a spy had supposedly influenced Ian Fleming's James Bond series.  We definitely had a long and lively discussion today, which makes me very happy.

This is an example of a situation where I, as facilitator, put on our list a favourite book of mine, with the expectation, or hope, that everyone will love it.  But then the worries begin.  What if they don't love it?  What if they don't even like it?  This has only happened once, where most of the group did not like the book that is one of my favourites.  That was hard to bear, and I found myself initially defending the book, but then I had to let go and allow that everyone experiences a book differently, and that just because I thought it was brilliant, not everyone else would share my opinion.  So I let it go.  If you recommend a book to someone, you have to be prepared to accept his or her response to it, and this is especially true in a book club setting.  As long as it generates good discussion, whether the members like it or not, it is a good selection.

That's all for tonight.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Tea and books on a Wednesday morning...

I've been on a quest for a suitable "feel-good" book selection for my book group in the past week or so, and I have to say it's been a real challenge.  I receive the e-newsletters from Abebooks, and about 6 weeks ago they sent one wiith a list of 25 "feel-good" book titles, which I brought to my book club meeting in answer to one of my member's questions regarding feel-good books for her friend.  These titles seemed like a hit, so I thought I could start with this list to find a selection for my group.  I bought a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary from a second-hand bookstore and started to read it, but it just didn't seem suitable for my group, and I'll admit it did nothing for me, either.  So that's off the list.  I checked the library catalogue for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, but there were not enough copies of that title for my group, so that's off the list.  Then last week while I was out on an errand, I stopped in at another second-hand bookstore to see if the staff person could recommend any titles.  I figured that, while I don't read many feel-good books, others certainly do and so I would seek help from someone else.  While the staff person did not have many titles to suggest personally, I got a few ideas just seeing what was on the shelves there.  I think that our August selection will be The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  I read this title many years ago, and I think the stories of the mothers and daughters presented in this novel, while complex and sometimes melancholy, are generally hopeful and empowering.  And there are plenty of copies available at libraries and used bookstores, so it will be easy to get a copy of the novel in time for the meeting.  (I can't say that about The Razor's Edge, our July selection, as there seems to be a shortage of available copies.  I hope everyone can get a copy in time to read it.)

My quest for "feel-good" titles, and my lack of personal reference for these types of books, leads me to determine that I read mostly serious or "depressing" books.  I don't think of them as depressing, but some may refer to them that way.  Abebooks just sent another e-newsletter, this time with a list of "More Bleak Books", a follow-up to their original list of "10 Bleak Books" that was created and sent out about a year ago.  According to the newsletter, this list was so popular, with comments that these books weren't bleak enough, that they created this new, updated list.  The first book on the original list, which is our September book club selection, is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (uh-oh!!).  I'll admit that I was more intrigued by this list and the original list than the list of feel-good titles.  I've even read many of the titles on the lists (see link and found them to be worthwhile reads.  Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, the first on the new list, is certainly depressing, but it's also uplifting because, as you're reading it and wondering if and how the main character is going to survive, you realize that he does in fact survive because he's writing the book!  So there's almost always hope, even in the bleakest stories.

Speaking of bleak stories, I'm listening to Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman, and it's certainly bleak.  Set in Germany in 1932-33, it tells the story of a detective on the hunt for a murderer who appears to also be involved in bizarre surgical experimentation, and who may or may not be a Nazi.  The story is strange and disturbing enough, but set against the backdrop of Germany in the early 1930s, as Hitler and the Nazi's rise to inevitable power, this listener cringes every time the characters, the "good guys", make comments like, "When this Nazi madness blows over..." or "The Nazi party finally seems to be losing power...", because I know that not only will it not pass, but this is just the beginning.  When various characters tell the main character, Kraus, who is a famous Jewish detective, to leave the country, I want to tell him to take their advice and get out while he still can.  But he continues to make excuses and is convinced it will all pass once the people see what Hitler and the Nazis really represent.  "Run, Kraus, run!!"  I'm nearly finished listening to it, and as I read reviews of the book the other day, I was surprised to find out that this is the author's first novel, which is impressive.  Yes, it has some cliched characters and scenarios, but the detailed descriptions of the pre-WWII German settings, both physical and psychological, work really well, at least for this reader.  I would definitely recommend it, but not for the faint of heart or other readers who prefer "feel-good" stories.  (Believe it or not, I'm really a very happy, cheerful, positive person!)

Bye for now!

PS A note about my tea this morning... I usually make a thermos of chai tea using loose tea and adding lots of warm milk to the mug before straining in the steeped tea.  This morning I used my milk frother to froth up the warm milk before adding the tea, which I do occasionally, but what was different this morning was that I added a piece of cinnamon stick and some whole cloves to the loose tea in my thermos for steeping.  I must say, my tea today is particularly delicious, and it even looks fancy!  YUM!