Thursday 26 April 2012

Book talk on a cool April evening...

On this last weekend of April, the weather is cool and windy and just a bit overcast, a perfect evening to drink a cup of tea and to think about, write about, and especially read books!  So much to read, so little time...

This evening I want to write a little bit about a few different things.  First, I made it out to the CFUW  Book Sale last weekend, after work on Friday.  It was, as usual, hugely popular and quite busy, and the selection was awesome, as were the prices.  I didn't really have much time, so I just browsed the paperbacks, all conveniently located in one room, and found a few titles that I wanted to own.  I picked up a John Le Carre novel,  A Perfect Spy, a stand-alone about a double agent that sounded interesting.  I also found a paperback copy of The Telling of Lies, a murder mystery by Timothy Findley, an author whose works are so different from one another that some of his novels I love and some I find unreadable.  And I found one Inspector Wexford novel, the Ruth Rendell series I was speaking so excitedly about last week. I think that was certainly worth the trip to Waterloo, and if I'd had more time, I would have explored the other rooms for hardcovers and "better quality" books.  Thank goodness this is an annual event - it's something to look forward to each spring!

I've been reading A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke this past week, a book I took out of the library. I've read it before and remembered really enjoying it, finding it humourous and insightful.  I thought I'd reread it because I have a copy of Merde in Love on my bookshelf and thought I might read it.  It made sense to reread the first book in the series to refresh my memory and "set the mood".  I have to say that the novel is just not grabbing me.  I'm two-thirds of the way through, and I'll finish it, but I expected to be so compelled that I wouldn't be able to put it down.  That was not the case.  This novel tells the story of Paul West, an Englishman who goes to work for a company in Paris to research and design a chain of British tea rooms to open across France.  His experiences in Paris are the antithesis of Peter Mayle's experiences in the french countryside as described in A Year in Provence, as one thing and another do not work out for him.  It's still pretty funny, but I guess I was significantly younger when I first read it, and it was a fresh new experience, so I really did enjoy it.  This time, not so much.  This may be why I'm hesitant to recommend a book to someone if it's been a few years since I've read it.  Life situations, mood, reading histories, and all kinds of other factors, go into the experience of reading a book, and those factors can change over time as one reads other books, changes life situations, matures, etc.  It's still worth reading, but less funny than I remembered it to be.

I need to finish it soon, though, or set it aside, as I must start my next book club selection by Saturday.  We're reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and I can't believe I've never read this book,  not even for school.  This novel explores racial inequality and loss of innocence in a small American town, and it is told from the point of view of a young girl, Scout Finch.  I have to admit that I may have even missed watching the film based on this book - I'm so glad I'm part of this bookclub because I now have to read this classic of American literature.  Perhaps I've avoided it because it's written from the point of view of a child, not my favourite style of narration.  I'll write more about this novel once I've started it, and of course once we've had our discussion.

Right now I have a fuzzy kitty on my lap who wants some attention, so I have to go.

Bye for now!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Anniversary post...

Happy one-year anniversary!!  It was almost exactly one year ago today that I published my first post on the blog.  WOW!  It seems both like the time has gone by so quickly, and also like I've always been writing posts... strange how time is fluid and changeable that way.  Anyways, thanks for sticking with me for a whole year, and I look forward to many more years of great reading and posting experiences!

The first thing I wanted to let you know about is the 48th annual CFUW used book sale that will be held this weekend, Friday April 20 from 9am-9pm and Saturday April 21 from 9am-1pm at the First United Church at King and William Sts in Waterloo.  If you have time on either Friday or Saturday, you really should check it out, as there are often great finds and always at a great price.

I decided not to read depressing When Will There Be Good News?, even though I know I really enjoyed listening to it, and have even downloaded the audiobook again in case I want to listen to it again.  I went to the library on Saturday afternoon and just wandered in the stacks to see if something caught my eye.  I came away with about eight books that I knew nothing about.  Of those, at least four ended up not working for me for various reasons.  From that experience, I learned what it is like for a library patron to come into the library unprepared, with no ideas regarding what she wants to take out.  Having worked at the library for so many years, I'd forgotten how daunting and often frustrating searching for a good book could be.  On Sunday, my husband and I went to another library to select some DVDs for the week, and I also looked for books, blindly, as I had done the day before.  I ended up taking four books, one I had read before and enjoyed, one that is its sequel, one novel about which I know nothing, and one mystery paperback by Ruth Rendell.  I read the Ruth Rendell novel, Not in the Flesh, an Inspector Wexford mystery, and I really enjoyed it.  I've tried a stand-alone novel by this author within the past year, The Water is Lovely, which was kind of surreal and dreamlike.  I thought it was OK, but I much preferred the Wexford novel, a classic British mystery.  Not alot of character development in the novel, and I assume that the rest of the novels in the series are like this one, and they are fairly short and easy to get through, but in terms of a classic mystery, I don't think you could go wrong with one of these.  I'm so happy to have discovered this, as there must be quite a few in this series, which means many more mysteries for me to check out (literally!!).

It's funny, I'm not sure why I like reading mysteries.  I never try to figure out who committed the crime or why.  I like reading mystery series as well as stand-alones, and I especially enjoy British mysteries.  They can be cozy mysteries, taking place in a small town or village, where the crime takes place off the page and the detective is often not really a detective at all, but an amateur sleuth with a skill in some other area (remember the book I wrote about not long ago, Paganini's Ghost, about a violinist who got involved in a murder in a small Italian village?).  They can be psychological mysteries like Minette Walters, whose novels are fairly descriptive, not necessarily graphic or gratuitous in their descriptions, but you don't have to imagine much about the crime, and there are always complex psychological twists. They can be police procedurals like Peter Robinson and Elizabeth George, where the workings of the police and their investigative tools and processes are as important to the story as the crime.  They can be "slice-of-life" novels like Case Histories and others by Kate Atkinson, where the reader feels as if she is learning about life while discovering the truth behind the crime.  Maybe mysteries appeal because they promise resolution in the end, a discovery of the guilty party and hopefully an arrest and prosecution, which should bring some peace of mind to the victims and those who are left behind.  Maybe I like the way the British write mysteries, the atmosphere these writers are able to create and into which I can immerse myself for a little while.  Also, because they are often written in series, there is almost always more to read by that author once you finish one book.  Anyways, I'm very excited to have discovered the Inspector Wexford series by Rendell, and look forward to reading many more (there are more than 20 novels in that series alone - WOO HOO!!  I've hit the "book jackpot"!)

In my last post when I was talking about Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, I mentioned that I was reminded of a few different novels as I was reading it, but at the time of writing I was only able to recall two of those novels, Patchett's Bel Canto and Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.  Well, I thought of another, not a novel, but an author.  There were sections of the book that reminded of the books of Michael Crichton, where a group of researchers, often working for a big pharmaceutical company, goes into the jungle to discover, usually covertly, the secrets of a tribe of indigenous peoples, and often to exploit them for their own gain, but this always turns out badly for everyone.  Patchett's novel was actually nothing like a Crichton novel, but it certainly had some elements of this type of novel, and Crichton is not the only writer who uses this plotline.  Another novel with this type of plotline, which is more similar to Patchett's novel, is Le Carre's The Constant Gardener, an excellent novel with a disturbing story to tell.  All that to say once again that I loved State of Wonder, and will  most definitely read it again.

That's all for tonight!  Looking forward to another year of posting...

Bye for now!

Thursday 12 April 2012

Tea and book talk...

I've been a busy reader over the past week, and have lots to write about tonight.  First I want to tell you about State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.  I must have really enjoyed it, because I finished it in just six days.  That may not seem overly quick, and normally I can finish a novel in a week, but this one was the type that I really had to think about, one that demanded time and effort to really understand what was going on.  I gave a brief outline of the plot in my last post, so I won't do that again here, but I'll just say that there's more to the characters and story than the reader may at first believe.  I really don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it was absolutely compelling to read and engaging from start to finish.  It reminded this reader of various other novels, for various reasons:  it was a bit like Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible regarding the influences and effects of the western world on indigenous peoples.  It reminded me of Bel Canto, of course, but not because of the writing style.  Well, the writing style was similar, but the stories move at such different pace that I had to remind myself that both books were by the same author.  No, it was the references to music, and the beauty of opera, that brought to mind Bel Canto.  When I was reading it, the novel brought to mind other novels for comparison, and I thought I should write them down as they were in mind, but I didn't, and now it's been almost a week, so they're gone.  I may recall them and pass them on later, but for now those are the only two novels I can come up with.  For me, the novel was about the responsibilities people have towards others and that people must behave in a manner that is responsible for all parties, not just for those acting, but for those being acted upon.  It was about what it really means to be a mother, and again, behaving responsibly when considering motherhood.  It was also about relationships, and about adaptability, and about going beyond one's own expectations of oneself, out of duty, out of necessity, or sometimes out of love.  In case it's not clear from my post so far, I loved it and would highly recommend it!

Something I also wanted to comment on was the design of the book.  My copy is a trade paperback, my favourite format for a book, especially if I own it.  I like the way it opens easily and stays open, and it gives the reader enough text to keep him or her busy for a while, unlike mass market paperbacks, which can sometimes be a challenge.  But the cover of the book is so interesting because it is so sparse.  It has the title and author in the center and some interesting and relevant artwork around the edges, and there is a lengthy description of the plot and some information about the author on the back cover.  Both are an unassuming sand colour.  But what I found remarkable, and this is something I didn't really realize until a few days' reading had passed, is that there are no comments or recommendations from other authors on the front or back covers.  There are no excerpts from newspaper or magazine reviews (here is a link to my cover:  This book is relying on the strength of the plot, and of course the familiarity of the author, to sell itself.  I think that shows great faith in the judgement of the reader, and also great confidence on the part of the author and publisher.  It's a nice change to see this type of book cover.  I remember some time ago I wrote about the use of author recommendations or comments on the covers of books, and how I thought that this was somehow insulting to the reader, or a cheap way to market a book.  I like to see a book that "believes in itself", if that makes any sense (it sounds better in my head than it looks on the screen!)  By the way, Patchett recently opened her own independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville which has put her in the running for Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world ( Interesting...

Of course, when coming to the end of a gripping, well-written novel, I was faced with panic, because I wanted to follow it up with another terrific book.  I tried to reread a Minette Walters' mystery, but that was absolutely not what I wanted.  I then tried to read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, another book that had been a gift, this time from my sister-in-law a couple of years ago.  While I'm definitely interested in reading it, this past week was just not the right time, so I'm putting it back on my bookshelf for future reading.  Then I got a notice from the library that When Will There Be Good News? was in for me, so I picked it up last night and began reading it.  Oh my, I didn't remember it being so "not uplifting"!  It is written more like Case Histories than One Good Turn, and it's been long enough since I've listened to this novel that it's almost like reading a new book, except that I actually understand it better this time since I've read the earlier novels in the series.  But, at only 2 chapters into the book, there is a dead dog and a puppy thrown out of a car window (but also a dog that is loved and cherished by its owner).  I don't remember being disturbed by the animal imagery when I listened to it, so I think I'm safe to read it.  I'll let you know what I think about it once I finish.  I really enjoyed the audiobook, so I'm hoping my reading experience will live up to my expectations.  At least I now know that the answer to the question, "When will there be good news?" is likely to be , "Never!"

On that cheerful note, I think I'll close.

Bye for now!

Friday 6 April 2012

Post on a sunny Good Friday...

WOW, this is just like old times, posting on a sunny morning with CBC playing in the background and a cup of chai tea by my side.  Really, those were the best posting times... ah well, sometimes we need to roll with the changes in our lives.

I finished One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson on Sunday, and it was a disappointment.  It seems appropriate to be writing about it today, a religious holiday, because it had many religious undertones.  One of the main characters, Martin, was a crime fiction writer who had taught Religious Studies to high school boys before starting to write.  At one point, someone had written an article about him which reported that he had been a priest, or in a seminary, before becoming a teacher and then a writer, which was untrue but stuck - he was ever after referred to as the "former priest" in reviews, interviews and articles.  There were references to the road to Damascus, and religious conversion, scales falling from the eyes, and other biblical imagery.  There is also the title, One Good Turn, a reference to "one good turn deserves another" and is somehow, I think, related to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.  Anyways, more religious than Case Histories, and also too many instances of animal cruelty, dead dogs and drowned kittens... not very pleasant for this animal-lover.  I'll definitely move on to When Will There Be Good News? - I'm not sure if I have my own copy of that book or whether I'll have to request it from the library.

Our book club discussed Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis last Saturday, and all the members loved it!  I must thank on of my members, Val, for recommending it, and it was just a coincidence that we read it at a time when our own budget was being discussed and announced, since a large portion of the book dealt with the two main characters' reactions to the "mini-budget" that was being proposed and was to be voted on (I couldn't take any credit for the timeliness of the selection, but I really like when that happens!).  If you recall, this book tells the story of a reluctant liberal MP candidate who, due to unforeseen circumstances, actually wins in his riding, and his behaviour in his new role.  We discussed Fallis' manipulation of language to achieve humourous ends, and the ways in which this book challenged stereotypes and revealed misconceptions.  It offered a view of politics that was refreshing and light, though the the novel evoked compassion in the reader for some of the characters - Angus' grief over the death of his wife and Muriel's progressive Parkinsons' disease made the story more real than if the characters and situations were strictly humourous.  Angus and Daniel also experienced character growth throughout the book.  One member confirmed what I had written in my last post, that this book had something for everyone (when that happens, and it's happened more than once, I suspect that my book club members are secretly reading my blog, even though they all deny it!)  Anyways, good choice, and timely, too!!

On Monday, April 2, I began reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which was a birthday gift from a friend.  She had placed a reserve on a library copy at the Toronto Public Library (she lives in Toronto), so we agreed that when she got her copy, we would read it at the same time so we could discuss it afterwards.  I was in the middle of my book club selection when she get her copy, but she's not quite finished and I'm about a third of the way though, so the timing should work out for us.  It's amazing!  I think it's even better than Bel Canto, which was really good, but a little slow to get into.  With this book, I did not have that problem.  It tells the story of a woman, Marina, a researcher for an American  pharmaceutical company who is sent to Brazil to track down Annick Swenson, another researcher employed by the same company who was working on a fertility drug but has been incommunicado by her own choice for the past 10 years.  It's beautifully written, the characters are enigmas, and the situations are puzzling.  I think the appeal of this novel for me is that it's a bit of a character study and a bit of a mystery, combining my two favourite types of stories.  I can't wait to finish it!  The reason I mentioned the date on which I started the book is that it opens with the death of one of the company's researchers who had gone to find the elusive Swenson.  The company receives a letter from Swenson with the news of his death, a letter that was dated March 18, the death occurred on March 15, and Marina comments that "today is April 1st".  I began reading this on April 2nd, so that kind of indicated that I had to read this book, that it was the right time to start.  And there is a character named Easter, and this is Easter weekend.  Remember on February 14th I started a book whose first line was, "Well, it is Valentine's Day", and I felt compelled to finish it, like that was some sort of sign, even though it really wasn't very well-written?  I think I will have a much better reading experience this time.

I think it's time to go and get ready for a hike on the Bruce Trail - we're planning to go to Crawford Lake today.  I always feel that Good Friday should be overcast and drizzly, but it almost never is.  I guess it feels wrong somehow to be enjoying a bright sunny day on such a sad holiday (you know what they say, "once a Catholic...")

Happy Easter!!  Bye for now...