Sunday 24 June 2012

Sunday morning post...

It's a cool. overcast Sunday morning,and I've just finished my usual morning chores so I can settle down with a cup of chai tea and write a bit about what I've been reading and listening to over the past week.  What a great way to start the week!

I finished Robinson's Before the Poison on Thursday evening, and it really was great.  I would recommend it to just about anyone who enjoys a good traditional mystery.  I looked up Robinson online last week and read a few reviews of this book - nearly every one compared this book to Du Maurier's Rebecca, so my comparisons were right on the mark.  I also read that the first series of the "Inspector Banks" books have been filmed in the UK, and they are now working on a second series.  I have often thought that they should make these books into films, as they have done with so many other British mystery series ("Midsomer Murders", "Inspector Lynley", "Rebus", "Frost", etc.), so I was thrilled to make this discovery.  I hope to have access to these episodes somehow, likely through the library if the DVDs are available for order.  I actually ordered the book through my work, and it arrived on my desk on Friday morning - I will definitely re-read this novel, as I find with a well-written mystery, there are always details you miss when you read it the first time which you catch on the second reading because you already know the ending. 

Speaking of filming books, I recently saw that the Australian novel The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas, has been made into an 8-part mini-sereis that is airing on TVO on Monday nights at 10pm.  I think tomorrow will be Part 3, but I haven't been watching it on TV, as I usually go to bed by then.  Instead, my husband has downloaded the first few parts, and we've watched the first part.  If you recall, I read this novel last summer and thought it was really well-done, dealing with many complex and difficult issues with insight and understanding.  The story begins with a group of friends and family getting together for a BBQ to celebrate someone's 40th birthday.  The relationships of the guests and hosts are complex and varied, and there is building tension as the event proceeds.  The tension comes to a head when someone slaps a child who is not his own, and the rest of the story follows the events that result from this act.  While the book was not perfect, and this reader felt it dealt unnecessarily with a few too many issues, making it overly long and complicated, it was still an ambitious and successful book on many levels.  Having watched the first part in the mini-series, I feel that it accurately captures the spirit and tone of the book, from what I can recall.  Maybe tonight we will watch the second part.  Be warned, it is not an uplifting book, and the mini-series promises to be just as bleak. 

I'm nearly finished listening to Bill Moody's novel Shades of Blue.  I think I mentioned this audiobook before, and commented that it is read by my new favourite narrator, Grover Gardner.  Well, this novel has a noir tone to the writing, or maybe it's just the way the narrator is reading it, but I'm enjoying it.  It is really a jazz mystery.  There is no murder to solve;  rather, the main character, Evan Horne, is concerned with finding out whether a fellow musician who has recently passed away was involved with the composition of any tunes on the famous Miles Davis album, "Kind of Blue", but remains uncredited.  This search takes him from Los Angeles to San Frascisco to Boston and New York, and he meets up with friends old and new and makes discoveries along the way.  The author writes so much about "Kind of Blue" that I decided I had to listen to it again after many years.  I pulled it out of my CD collection yesterday, and I'm listening to it even as I write.  This novel is one of a series, the "Evan Horne" series, and based on this novel, I believe that the rest of the series will be made up of jazz mysteries as well, although not always taking place in the USA.  I'm enjoying this audiobook, but I feel that if you don't know much about jazz or have an interest in it, you may find this book and others to be rather flat and disappointing.  I don't mind the lengthy passages about imagined recording sessions of the past or possible uncredited composition contributions, but I think I will take a break from Moody's books once I finish this, and will listen to something else.

I was on a search for a new book to read yesterday, since it is still too early to start my next book club selection.  I picked up a number of items that I had placed on hold at the library recently, so had an assortment to sample, including Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller's Orange Prize winning novel.  As I read the first few pages of each of these novels, I thought that they were interesting, but that this was not the right time to read them.  Instead, I picked up a copy of an "Inspector Wexford" mystery by Ruth Rendell that I had on my bookshelf, and will read that for now.  I needed something "light" and accessible, both physically and literarily (is that a word?), for now, as I have just a few days before it will be time to start reading The Book Thief for my book club.  I think it's just begun to rain, so I'm looking forward to a few good hours of reading a British mystery this afternoon.

Bye for now!

PS A few hours later... OK this is really weird.  I'm reading End in Tears by Ruth Rendell, which I began yesterday but stopped reading after the first chapter.  In that chapter, an attempt was made by an anonymous person to drop a heavy concrete block on someone's car.  As I find out later in the book, which I read today, that attempt took place on June 24th.  Today is June 24th!  That's so weird!  Of all the books I could have chosen to read, in which today's date would not have been significant or mentioned for any reason, I managed to choose a novel in which it is mentioned many times because of its significance to the events that follow.  This is not the the first time this has happend, and it's starting to make me think something is helping to direct my reading schedule beyond just me or pure chance (I don't really believe that, but still... you must agree that this is very weird).  This is a book I picked up at the big booksale in Waterloo in I think April, so really, it would have been more likely that I would have read it then, shortly after discovering the joys of Ruth Rendell mysteries for myself, but I didn't read it then, for whatever reason.  I think at that time I was drawn to read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, another novel where the timing of the reading coincided with a significant date in the book.  Hmmm... makes you think...  I'll keep reading, as I'm clearly destined to read this book at this time.

Bye again...

Monday 18 June 2012

Even shorter post today...

If I expected last week's post would be short, this week's entry will be practically non-existent!  I had alot of "dental drama" last week, so was not really in the mood to read, then I was away for the weekend, so again, no reading getting done there; therefore, I am not much further along in my book this week than I was last week.  I was just going to skip writing a post this week, but it feels wrong somehow to not write anything, and I thought that surely I could think of something to write about that is book-related, even if it's not about something I've recently read.  Here goes...

I'm still reading Peter Robinson's Before the Poison, the award-winning stand-alone that I started I think last week.  I actually just found out that he has another book coming out in the "Inspector Banks" series (sorry, I don't remember what it's called).  I hope to finish it by the weekend so I can start on my next book club selection with plenty of time to read it and prepare for the meeting.  This novel is a ghost story, not a police procedural.  I think I mentioned in my last post that it reminds me of one of my favourite novels, Rebecca, and the similarities are continuing well into the novel - they both deal with the "ghost", or "presence", of a past resident of a huge house that is practically a character in itself, a woman with a mysterious past, and the house's new resident who is obsessed with the story and with finding out the truth about the past.  I also mentioned the similarities with Minette Walters, particularly with the use of article excerpts to fill the reader in on the story about the mysterious woman.  He also uses this woman's diary entries later in the book.  All of this is very interesting, and I'm really enjoying the novel, savouring it slowly rather than rushing through it.  The only "criticism" I have, and I'm not sure that it's really a criticism, more of a comment, is that the main character, Chris Lowndes, is not really that interesting as a character.  I mean, he's just kind of "there" to move the story along, but he is portrayed as rather bland - the novel does not make this reader want to know about his life before the story begins.  In fact, I just had to look at the inside flap of the book to check what the character's name is, which illustrates my point exactly.  I find that very interesting in itself, since Inspector Alan Banks is such an interesting character that I would be willing to read a novel about his "life" even if there were no murders or mysteries to solve.  I guess the difference is that this is a stand-alone so the character will not appear in the next book in the series, and it is not really about the character or his personal or psychological development.  It is more about the discovery of the past and the characters that existed and the events that took place half a decade before.  I really am enjoying it, it's just different from his other novels, but not in a bad way.  Hmmm... perhaps Robinson did this intentionally, yet another similarity to Rebecca, which features a nameless heroine.  In both books, the real "stars" are the dead women, Grace Fox and Rebecca de Winter, and the story is really concerned with the mysterious events surrounding their deaths.  Interesting... I never thought of that similarity before.  For more information about Peter Robinson, please check out his website at:  Enjoy!!

Alright, I've run out of things to say about this book, and now that I have a cup of tea beside me, I'm quite anxious to get reading (the pace of my reading is far slower that I would like, due to various circumstances as mentioned above, so I really do want to get on with it and finish this excellent mystery).

Bye for now!

PS I think the new "Inspector Banks" novel is entitled Watching the Dark - that may be a working title.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Very short post for a warm Sunday...

This will be a very short post, both because I haven't read anything since my last post and because I'm having more dental concerns (yuck!) so don't really feel like writing.  But I reasoned that, as in my post advising people who haven't finished (or read!) their book club selection to attend the meeting anyway, I decided I would write a post about something book-related and hope you'll be patient with me.  I promise better posts to come!

I have been in a reading rut since finishing Daughters Who Walk This Path last Sunday.  It was excellent to the last page and I would highly recommend it as an interesting, not-too-depressing read about a young girl's life in Nigeria and the network of support that exists for women of that culture to help deal with the experiences they may encounter.  I've tried Elizabeth George's next novel in the "Inspector Lynley" series, but no interest.  I tried the book that I selected for our book club meeting in July, my new bookclub with women from my past and present workplaces, but I'd be finished too soon and would have to go back and refresh before the meeting.  I tried a couple of books from the library by authors I have never read before, but they didn't appeal.  So I started reading Peter Robinson's latest novel, the award-winning stand-alone Before the Poison.  I'm loving it!  It's quite different from his "Inspector Banks" series, as they are police procedurals and this novel is more of a ghost story, from what sense I can gather so far.  I haven't read much, but it appears to be about a man who, one year after his wife has passed away, at aged 60, returns to his home near Yorkshire and buys a large old (possibly haunted) house on the Dales.  It has all the elements of a haunted house story, a murderess, windswept location, and isolation - much of the setting and descriptions remind me of one of my favourite books, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  It also includes articles and accounts which are presented separate from the regular text, including being in a different font - this reminds me of Minette Walters, whose books always include such diversions.  From my recollection, none of Robinson's other novels uses this technique, but it is very effective in this instance, giving the reader a sense of the past and its significance on the present, revealed slowly, in tidbits, much like it would have been revealed to the main character, the new owner of the house.  This novel recently won the Canadian Crime Writer's award (or maybe the Arthur Ellis award?  I'm not sure) - it's definitely an award-winner anyway.  I look forward to enjoying it at a leisurely pace, not rushing through it.

I also finished listening to Rounding the Mark by Andrea Camilleri, narrated by Grover Gardner (my new favourite narrator).  I think I summarized this book in my last post - set on the coast of Italy, Inspector Montalbano finds a body floating next to him as he goes for a swim on the morning he has decided to hand in his resignation.  Needless to say, this begins a new and complex investigation for Montalbano and his eclectic team  of police.  I enjoyed it not only because of the narration, but because it was more of a "cozy" mystery, less graphic than some others.  When I looked up books that are similar to the Paul Adam mystery Paganini's Ghost, this series came up as a possibility, and I can now understand why.  While a bit grittier than Adam's novel, this series shares a small-town European setting, a single, older male investigator and a murder which has taken place off the page.  It does not include grisly details of the murder, and the lifestyles and attitudes of the investigators are almost as important to the reader as the crime.  Of course there is a lovestory in each, also not detailed unnecessarily but clearly important to the story.  It appears that Gardner has narrated many of the novels in Camilleri's series, so I look forward to listening to more in the future (but not too many in a row - I need a bit of variety!)

I actually started listening to an audiobook on Friday called Shades of Blue by Bill Moody.  I know nothing about this novel except that it seems to involve a jazz pianist who has inherited an estate from a reclusive fellow musician in Los Angeles.  I suspect that there will be some sort of mystery involved, and it is written in the noir style, similar to Raymond Chandler and James Cain.  I've listened to just the first half-hour or so, and it's holding my interest so far.  It is also narrated by Gardner, which is probably why I chose to download it.

OK, that's all for tonight.  Here's hoping for a more creative, inspired post next time!

Bye for now!

Sunday 3 June 2012

Tea and book talk on a Sunday morning...

I thought I'd post on Sunday morning this week rather than Monday evening, since I'm in my favourite chair with a cup of chai thinking about the really good book that I've been reading and hope to finish on this overcast, sometimes rainy Sunday.  I think I mention the weather so much at the beginning of each post because weather is so influential for me on my reading mood; that is, whether I feel like reading at all, or what I want to read.  I guess this is a way for me to set the reading mood for you, too.

I haven't read much since my last post, but I've attended two book group meetings, so I thought I could share the highlights of those with you.  My first group met on Thursday evening to discuss Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, the book about the jazz musicians in Europe in the time leading up to WWII.  I wan't sure how our meeting would go, as I've only ever been a facilitator for a book group so did not know if I should prepare any background materials on the book and the author like I normally do for my volunteer book group role (I did not), or if there would be a "group leader", or how it would work out.  It turned out fine.  The venue was great, and we just went around in a circle and talked about aspects of the book that each person thought was significant or affected them in some way.  No one prepared background info, which is something we decided we would do for future meetings, and that the responsibility for that would fall to whoever chooses the book.  In this case, it will be my responsibility, since our next book for the July meeting will be Saturday by Ian McEwan.  Anyways, everyone in the group enjoyed the book, and I think at least one of the four of us LOVED it.  She found the writing style, the slang which I found so challenging, to be almost singsong and rhythmic, like jazz music itself.  She enjoyed the way the story moved from past to present to past to present, again finding rhythm in this.  We all agreed that this female author wrote convincingly from a male character's perspective, and one member wondered what the purpose of the lone female character in the book was.  I wondered how the book would have been different written from this character's point of view.  One member felt that the main character came across as very "real", not flawless, not flat or two-dimensional, but believable for the reader.  It was interesting to hear what others thought of these aspects of a book that I did not particularly enjoy, and to discover ways in which this book spoke to them and reached them.  That is the wonder of book groups, because books and reading are such individual experiences.  This doesn't happen so much in my other book group, because I generally choose the books so they are books that I either have read before and liked, or books that I have not read before but think I will probably like, but also will make good discussion books.  I have decided to try this author's first book, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne at some point - I put it on hold at the library, but didn't take it out, as I decided to read something else instead.

That something else is Rabbit Run by John Updike.  I've read A Month of Sundays many years ago by this famous American author, and while I was ordering the "Rabbit" series for a library, it came as a shock to me to realize that I have never read any of these books.  I decided that now is the time to do so.  While I started this book yesterday, I think that now is not the right time to read it.  I think that, if the rain holds off, I will walk to the used books stores downtown and look for a paperback copy of this title so I can read it when I'm really in the mood to read and appreciate this novel.  I have a feeling that it will be a bit like The Winter of Our Discontent in that it will be a novel that, while dated in setting, will be timeless in human experience.

My ladies met yesterday to discuss Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  This novel is told from the perspective of a fifteen-year old autistic boy and relates his adventures as he tries to discover who killed the neighbour's dog.  We all loved it.  We were identifying with and cheering for Christopher, the main character, as he encountered neighbours, new experiences, and the British rail system on his quest to find his mother.  Our discussion focused a great deal on how difficult it must be for those individuals with some degree of autism, as well as parents and caregivers, to function in today's society.  We all had stories to tell about people we know who are autistic or have someone in their lives with autism.  It was a lively discussion once again, and I think the book was a success.

And finally, I've decided to finish reading Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko, a novel set in Nigeria which deals with the lives of several women in one family over a number of decades.  I started it about a week ago, and thought that after my two previous reading selections, Chai Tea Sunday and The Lightning Field, I needed a break from books about women's experiences overcoming life's obstacles.  Then I read the two books discussed above, which must have been the change I needed, because I picked up Daughters yesterday and could hardly put it down.  It does not dwell on the negativity of the experiences for the main characters in its presentation of these experiences; in fact, it is often upbeat and positive in tone and story.  I also sense that this is much more than the experiences of one girl in her culture, but rather a portrayal of the network of supports that exist for women in Nigeria.  I am particularly interested in this novel, recommended by someone from work, because this author is a social worker in the field of children's mental health in Chatham, Ontario, which is where I grew up.  This is her first novel, and I think it shows great talent and promise.  While only half-way through, I'm finding it compelling enough to want to finish it today... here's hoping for many happy hours of reading!

That's all for today.

Bye for now!