Sunday 28 October 2012

Audio books, book club meetings, and more...

This week has been less reading-intense than last week, but I have an audio book and a book discussion to tell you about.

You may remember I mentioned an audio book I had started a while ago called My Revolutions by Hari Kunzra.  It tells the story of a man called Michael Frame who, as a young man, was involved in subversive activities as Chris Carter, his true identity.  More than 20 years later, some individuals from his past reappear in his current life and threaten to reveal his true identity and past activities, and Michael must make some choices regarding his future and his past.  It sounded like a really interesting story, and I downloaded it.  Once I started listening to it, however, I found it difficult to follow the story as an audio book, as it shifted around from past to present, and from different times in the past.  With a physical book, the reader can usually keep track of these shifts because the page may have breaks or spacing to indicate these shifts.  Also, the book involved many slogans and headlines, given the political nature of the story, and  again, with a physical book, the reader can tell what these are by a change in text size, capitalization, etc.  These shifts and differing messages could only be conveyed to a certain extent by the narrator, who was really quite good.  But I often felt lost listening to this book and gave it up to listen to something else, probably an Agatha Christie mystery.  I ended up going back to My Revolutions and finishing it, as I figured I could get the gist of the story, which I did.  But, while the story proved to be really interesting, it was a painful listening experience.  I would probably recommend this book but as a reading experience, not as a listening one.

I’ve now moved on to Minette Walters’ The Dark Room, which I’ve read a few times before and have listened to at least once.  I’m loving it!  I can listen to or read her books again and again because they are so complex and involved that at first reading I never catch all the details.  This novel tells the story of Jane “Jinks” Kingsley, a 34 year old woman who owns a photography studio in London.  She wakes up in a hospital and is told she tried to kill herself by driving her car into a concrete pillar while drunk after learning that her fiancee has called off the wedding and has run off to France with her best friend Meg.  She can’t remember anything of the weeks leading up to this supposed suicide attempt, but finds it hard to believe that she would have done such a thing over Leo, to whom she was engaged.  As she struggles to piece together what really happened, with the help of her doctor at the convalescent clinic, unsavoury details of her family life come to the surface and paint a very different picture of the girl than the reader is presented with at the beginning of the book.  I love Walters’ early novels, as she really delves into the psychological aspects of her characters, both the victims of the crimes and the (often alleged) perpetrators.  I just started this audio book a few days ago, and I’m nearly halfway through, as I look for opportunities to listen to it.  I highly recommend this title, but be prepared to be totally confused on first reading.

And my book group finally met on Thursday evening to discuss Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, a novel about a young woman who is summoned by a famous author to write her biography.  This novel, too, leads to the discovery of family secrets, along with a possibly haunted house, eccentric characters and shadowy figures.  I have read this book before and have discussed it with my other book group in the past, so it was not a new reading experience for me, but the other members had never read it before and they loved it!  They loved the atmosphere the author created, the sense of mystery surrounding everything, the characters and their own personal histories as revealed through the novel, the relationships that develop between characters, the shifting between past and present, among other things.  There were no criticisms of this book from anyone.  I think I wrote in a previous post that I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys gothic fiction, as it would definitely fit into that genre.  I don’t think most male readers would enjoy it, but if you like to read about swooning heroines, haunted houses, family secrets, and mysteries revealed, this title is for you.

I’m now reading The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, which is the book selection for next Saturday’s book club meeting.  This novel tells the story of a woman who gives her daughter away to an orphanage in India, and the couple who adopts her.  These two stories are intertwined as they follow the lives of the two couples over the years as their children grow up.  I was sure I had never read this popular book club selection before, but as I started it a few days ago, it was all very familiar to me.  I checked my list (I’ve written down the title of every book I’ve read since 1992), and could not find it listed anywhere.  I’m now past the halfway point, and the story has finally become unfamiliar, so I think what happened was that I started this novel but for some reason never finished it.  I think it will be a good discussion book for my group, as it deals with many different themes, such as a mother’s bond with her child, adoption, inter-cultural marriages, the bond a child has with her country of origin, relationships in general, a journalist’s responsibility to present the truth to his or her readers, even if it is unpleasant, and others.  I’m just over halfway through the book, and I’m enjoying it.  It reminds me a bit of Chai Tea Sunday, by Heather Clark, in that it is not brilliant writing, but it is a good, solid, straight-forward story told in a very readable way.  The Secret Daughter is in my opinion a more complex novel than Chai Tea Sunday but if  a reader came to me saying they liked one of these titles and could I recommend something similar, I would definitely encourage him or her to read the other.  I’ll see how I feel once I finish, and will let you know what my ladies thought of the book.

Time to finish my tea and get on with my day.

Bye for now!

Sunday 21 October 2012

Time for tea and book talk...

I think they’re calling for a lovely fall day today.  The sun is shining, there’s a nip in the air, and there’s no chance of rain in the forecast.  A good day for tea, a walk in the park, and a good book.

I’ve got a couple of books to talk about today, both of them from my “required reading” list.  The first is The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton.  It tells the story of a psychologist from Toronto, Jerry, who, during a visit to Guatemala to research the value of ethnotropic drugs in therapy, comes across a young Mayan woman, Inez, mute and possibly autistic, who is being kept in a box in the jungle by her family.  Her parents beg him to take her back to Canada, which he eventually does.  At some point during her stay with Jerry, who arranges therapy sessions for her to help overcome her trauma, she kills him and is sent away to a facility for the criminally insane.  Jerry’s long-time girlfriend, Caitlin, a journalist, is left to deal with the aftermath of this event, and she struggles to find out what really happened and why, in order to find a way to forgive Inez and move on.  This book grabbed me right from the beginning, and although it shifted between narrators and times, it was not overly difficult to follow.  I did find, by the end of the novel, that I was ready for it to be over, and was happy to reach the final page.  I felt that the first half of the book really set the stage for the mystery, and I wanted to read on the find out what happened next, or to find out what happened before, which lead to what was happening now.  The second half, however, lost that edge and droned on a bit, and I felt that the author mythologized (I think that’s the right word) Inez a bit too much.  I found myself gritting my teeth every time the author wrote about Inez’s radiance and inner spirituality, when she’d made that point many times before.  Having said that, it was definitely an interesting read, and I really enjoyed the first half of the novel, perhaps because it dealt more with Jerry and Caitlin, and other minor characters, and their relationships, as well as Inez, whereas the last half of the book focused mainly on Inez, and Caitlin’s search for the truth about the killing.  I’ve never read anything else by this author, who is from Newmarket, although I believe she has written other adult fiction.  I’m not sure I would recommend this to everyone as a great read, but it was definitely interesting and well-written, though not flawless.

The next book I’d like to talk about is Our Daily Bread by Lauren B Davis.  This novel, too, deals with abuse and violence, but in a very different way.  It tells the story of the folks in the small town of Gideon, and the way they handle the presence and activities of the Erskines, the clan that live up on the mountain.  There are many main characters and plots.  I can’t say that this book is just about Ivy and Dorothy, and the relationship that develops between the lost little girl and the widow.  Nor can I say that it is about Albert, the young Erskine man who wants to get away from the clan and leave the mountain behind, and Bobby, a town teen who needs someone to look up to, and the relationship that develops between these characters.  It is also not just about Tom Evans, a good-looking and upstanding town member whose restless partner runs off, leaving him to deal with the children and the town gossip.  No, it is about all of these things and much more.  It is about the town’s reluctance to acknowledge what is happening up on the mountain, to turn a blind eye to the abuse, neglect and illegal activities that everyone knows is happening but no one wants to deal with.  I don’t want to write too much about this novel, to avoid giving any more of the plot away.  I’ll just say that it kept me riveted to the last page.  Davis handled a difficult subject with grace and skill.  She described unpleasant situations with only as much detail as the reader needed to understand, never indulging in unnecessary description for shock value (not that she needed to, as the subject matter was shocking enough).  This novel was inspired by the true story of the Goler Clan living on a mountain in Nova Scotia in the 1970s.  It was both horrifying and compelling, but not for anyone looking for an uplifting read.  I feel that I can accurately sum up this novel using the words Davis penned to describe Ivy at one point in the novel:  it was “unutterably sad”.  I will definiely be checking out The Stubborn Season, another novel by this author.

Now I need to select something else to read.  I could tackle my next book club selection, The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, but I think it’s a bit too early for that - I’ll finish it too far in advance of our meeting.  Perhaps another novel from the list of “required reading”?  I have Everybody has Everything, by Katrina Onstad, from the library.  This book has recently been nominated for  the Giller prize, so I read a few pages last night before I went to bed.  I’m sensing that it will not be a book I “can’t put down”, but I will read a bit more before making a decision.  That’s the great thing about being an adult - unlike being a student, I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to read.  There will be no exams or essays, and except for my book groups, there are no expectations for me to read a certain book at a certain time.  The only problem with that situation is that there are so many good books to choose from that it is often difficult to make a decision.  It’s good to have some guidance regarding book choices sometimes.  But that’s for another post…

Bye for now!

Sunday 14 October 2012

All about series...

On this dreary, rainy Sunday morning (perfect for reading!), I want to talk about mystery series, and where you should start with them.

My book group met yesterday to discuss Anne Perry's Angels in the Gloom, which I didn't realize was the third book in a five-book series.  I often read mystery series, which generally do not rely heavily on the reader's knowledge of previous characters or events, and I think I mentioned in my last full post that I was hoping everything would become clear in the end, as this novel seemed to require the reading of the previous two novels to be understood fully.  In fact, as I think about it now, I wonder if this is less of a mystery series than a family saga revolving around the Reavley family, the parents and the adult children, and their involvement with the Peacemaker, during WWI.  My members, those who finished reading it, were confused by the characters and events in the novel, which makes sense now that I realize the situation of this novel in the series.  Well, they had other complaints as well, such as the heavy-handedness of the emotional elements, the foolishness of the murder and destruction of the prototype, and the unevenness of the writing.  Having said that, some of my members who have read her earlier books highly recommend them, especially the "Thomas Pitt" series and the "William Monk" series, which I believe are set in Victorian England.  I really enjoyed this book, although I, too, felt that the emotional elements, especially fear and sadness, were overwhelming at times.  I enjoy books about spies, but I also find them confusing, as they often involve double agents and government secrets as well, but they are usually explained well enough by the end for this reader to get the gist of the story.  I don't usually enjoy books set in WWII, and I almost never read anything set in WWI, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this book.  I will definitely read the first two in the series to find out why and how the Peacemaker is involved in the war, and eventually the last two novels to find out who he is.  All this to say that I would not recommend starting with this book, as it relies too heavily on the reader's knowledge of previous events and characters.

What I found most interesting about Anne Perry, however, is her history.  I found out a few years ago that Perry's real name is Juliet Hulme, who along with her friend Pauline Parker, at age 15, killed Parker's mother during a walk in the park in Christchurch, New Zealand, because they did not want to be separated (Hulme was to move to South Africa to live with her mother while her parents were seeking a divorce).  I noted that, after a fairly negative discussion of the book thusfar, the mention of this information set the room buzzing.  As one member put it, "This puts a whole new spin on the murder (in the book)".  There is a film I saw a number of years ago about this murder called "Heavenly Creatures".  I've placed it on hold at the library as I would like to watch it again.  Some of my ladies knew about Perry's history, but most did not, and I found that they were suddenly interested in reading other books by her after I mentioned it, which is what I expected.

So back to mystery series... I'd like to talk about some other mystery series that I have read, and where to start reading them.  I'll start with my favourite series, Peter Robinson's "Inspector Banks" series.  I began reading this series about eight years ago, and my first book was In a Dry Season.  This was published in 1999 and is maybe the eighth book in the series that now has about 21 books.  At that time, there were maybe 12 books in the series, so it was not that old, but it was not an early book either.  I had no problem understanding or appreciating the main plot, as it was self-contained; only the main characters, the police team, were carried forth from previous novels, and understanding their previous relationships was not significant to the story.  I don't think I immediately went back to the beginning of the series, but read a few more of his titles before deciding to begin at the beginning.  I'm glad I did read them all in order, as I got the full story of Banks and his wife, children, other characters that appear sporadically throughout the series, etc.  But I believe that with this series, you can start anywhere and enjoy the book at hand.  In fact, I saw Robinson read once a few years ago, and someone asked him whether readers should start with the first book in his series.  He said no, that a writer usually improves over time so if there are several books available, it would be best to start with a later book, then go back to the first book.  That is what I did, and I absolutely agree.  Only in one instance should I caution you:  if you are going to read Friend of the Devil, you should definitely read Aftermath first.  So, read and enjoy Robinson!

Another series I have enjoyed is Elizabeth George's "Inspector Lynley" series.  Like with Robinson's series, I have read books chosen for their availability more than for their place in the series, and have found that, once again, the main stories are self-contained.  You may recall that I was on an Elizabeth George kick last summer, wanting to start at the beginning of the series, but was running into problems because the library did not have many of the early books.  I found quite a few at used book stores around town, and have indeed started reading from the beginning.  I found this useful because, although the stories could be appreciated in and of themselves, I was also interested in the lovestories involving Helen, Tommy, Simon and Deborah, and these full stories the reader can only get by starting with the first novel.  So once again, you can feel confident starting anywhere, but you may eventually want to go back to the early novels and read from the beginning.

OK, I've had a few technical challenges this morning, so have been at this post longer than I'd anticipated.  I wanted to write more, but I'm now all "posted" out so will close for this week.

Bye for now!

Monday 8 October 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

No post today, as I am on holidays and have been out hiking the Bruce Trail in Tobermory all day... makes me want to reread Canoe Lake by Roy MacGregor , as Tom Thomson is from Owen Sound area.

I will resume my regular posting schedule next week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bye for now!