Sunday 27 January 2013

Last post for January...

As this chilly month comes to an end, I’ve got my hot cup of chai tea to warm my hands as I consider what to write about for this post.  I’ve got just 20 pages left of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I don’t want to write about it until my book club meets next week, so I’m sort of stuck for material.

Well, I am considering attending a series of book discussions that are part of a program called “Laurier Reads” (I’m a Wilfrid Laurier University alumni).  I just received an email invitation last week to these discussions, where the attendees will be discussing Fauna by Alissa York, who will be the writer-in-residence at WLU in March.  I haven’t read the book, and have had a difficult time finding a copy.  I’ve tried the libraries and all the used bookstores in the area, with no luck.  So the dilemma is:  do I attend the discussion on Monday without having any knowledge of the book?  The discussions are scheduled on three consecutive Mondays, so the chances that I will have had the opportunity to get hold of the book before the last meeting is done is slim, but it may be interesting to attend just to meet other readers and to hear the discussions, which will be lead by an English professor from WLU.  The topics for these discussions are:  “Place and Memory”, “Animals”, and “Nourishment and Narrative”.  I may attend at least one discussion just to get an idea of how this discussion is structured.  I suspect that it will be very different from either of my other group discussions, possibly more like an English class, with a  “lecture” on theme first, then opening it up to the group for input.  I’m definitely interested in reading the book.  Too bad it’s only available as a new book, which I’m not really prepared to buy.  Several of the used bookstores had copies of another title by her, Effigy, which I may purchase and read, although I also know nothing about that novel.

I didn’t continue with the Ted Dekker novel last week, but started instead The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, the Giller-prize winning novelist, writer and surgeon (some people have all the talent!).  It was really well-written and very interesting, but it was going to take me too long to finish, so I read the Lawrence book instead.  The Headmaster’s Wager tells the story of Percival Chen, the headmaster of a reputable English school in Saigon during the time of the Vietnam War.  When his son gets in trouble with the authorities, Chen realizes that he has reached the limits of his ability to bribe influential figures, and sends his son away.  He then meets a woman with whom he has a child, and finally finds happiness, but this happiness is precarious, and he must ultimately face the tragedies he has chosen not to see.  I’ve not read anything else by this author, and actually knew nothing about this book, but as I was at the library one day returning some books, this one was also being returned by another patron, and it wasn’t on hold for anyone, so I took it out.  It’s extremely well-written, the language is lush, and the descriptions are detailed.  I’m excited to get back to that novel, which I set aside so reluctantly early last week, after reading not quite one quarter of it.

I also just got a stack of novels from the library that I had requested.  The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (class culture in modern-day India, seen through the eyes of two very different women), Intolerable:  A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee (non-fiction title exploring an Arab family’s experiences during six decades of Middle Eastern politics) and The Deception of Livvy Higgs by Donna Morrissey (the struggle of a woman in Halifax to come to terms with the deceptions that lay hidden in her past) have all come in at the same time, and I must choose between them.  The Morrissey novel and the non-fiction title by Al-Solaylee are “required reading” for me, as is The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, which I have in my personal collection and which I am also anxious to read.  How will I ever decide?!  We’ve also just booked a trip to Cuba, so I placed on hold from the library the title Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, the only title I could think of off-hand that is set in Cuba.  I haven’t read any of Greene’s espionage novels in quite some time, so this title should be a treat.

I’m all out of writing ideas at this point, but I look forward to writing a long, detailed post about Lady Chatterley’s Lover and our book discussion next week.

Bye for now!

Sunday 20 January 2013

Book talk on a cold, snowy morning...

I can hear the wind blowing wildly outside this morning, and I know it’s gotten very cold overnight, so I think it’s a good day to stay in and curl up with a hot cup of tea and a good book, which is exactly what I have planned for today.

I read Say You’re Sorry by Australian writer Michael Robotham last week, and it was the kind of book I love to read, the type that I can’t put down, and when I’m forced to stop reading for some reason, I can’t wait to pick it up again.  It is a psychological thriller in a series that features Joseph O’Loughlin as the main character, a psychologist who also does some profiling for the police.  In Robotham’s first novel, The Suspect, O’Loughlin gets involved in the investigation of the murder of a woman whom he knows slightly.  As the investigation proceeds, O’Loughlin becomes a suspect in the murder, and of course it is up to him to find the evidence to free himself from the suspicions of the police.  I think it’s the best in the series, which is not actually identified as a “series”, but features the same main character throughout.  There are also a couple of his novels that feature a detective inspector, Vincent Ruiz, which I have enjoyed less than the ones with O’Loughlin.  Say You’re Sorry is great because it has O’Loughlin as the main character but Ruiz is also featured as he assists O‘Loughlin in this investigation.  This novel begins with the double homicide of a couple in a farmhouse outside of Oxford.  O’Loughlin is called in to help assess a developmentally-challenged man who has been brought in as a suspect in this case.  He determines that the man they are holding could not have committed the crime.  The body of a young girl is found nearby, who turns out to be one of the Bingham Girls, two girls who went missing three years earlier.  So the hunt begins for the other missing girl, as she is believed to be still alive.  I don’t know why I enjoy Robotham’s books so much.  Maybe because they are very readable; that is, his characters are consistent and believable,  his stories flow and everything fits together, there is no guesswork involved in reading his work, everything makes sense, but his books are also suspenseful.  Of course, his main characters also have their own back stories, which makes this reader want to read the novels in order, but that is less important with these novels, at least in my opinion.  I think a reader new to Robotham could pick this novel up and enjoy it nearly as much as one who has read his books from the beginning.  I think back to Blue Monday by Nicci French, the novel I didn’t end up finishing last week.  Well, it is the first in a new series by this author (a husband-and-wife team) set in London and featuring psychotherapist Frieda Klein.  Described as a psychological thriller, there are many similarities between French’s novel and Robotham’s.  Similar main characters, similar settings, and similar storylines.  Actually, when I began reading Blue Monday, I was reminded very much of Kate Atkinson’s mysteries featuring ex-police detective-turned-private investigator Jackson Brodie.  The title, Blue Monday, reminded me of Blue Mouse, a stuffed bunny that played a significant role in Case Histories, the first in the series.  Both Blue Monday and Case Histories begin with 20-year-old still-unsolved cases of the abduction of a young girl, but also move on to current cases in which each of our main characters are involved.  So why did I love Case Histories and  Say You’re Sorry, but gave up on Blue Monday so quickly?  All are psychological mysteries set somewhere in the UK, all are not overly fast-paced, but depend more on the psychological exploration of the perpetrators, the victims, their families, and the psychologist/police involved in the cases.  All of the main characters, not official members of the police team investigating the cases, are flawed and rather introverted.  I should love Blue Monday, but I think the writing was a bit disjointed and difficult to follow, which was the reason I gave up on it.  Now that I think about it, though, I want to give it another try.  That’s why the library is a great resource - there is no commitment to the book since I didn’t buy it, but I can change my mind about it, too, if I decide I want to give it another go.  So I think I will go to the library today and try to get a copy of this book.

The problem with a book like Say You’re Sorry is that, once I finish it, I want another that is going to grab me in the same way, and the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.  And so I stumble along, trying other novels until I find one that may not be as gripping as the last one I read, but is more interesting than the ones I’ve recently tried and discarded.  I’ve tried to read Dahanu Road, by Anosh Irani, a novel recommended to me as a read alike for Tell It To The Trees, but it didn’t grab me at all.  I also tried reading Eclipse by John Banville, but it was too slow.  I think I will read that novel another time, as it reminds me of The Gathering by Anne Enright and The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, both slow novels of discovery as the main characters reach their “twilight years” (that may not be entirely true for Enright’s novel, maybe I’m thinking of The Forgotten Waltz).  Last night I began reading Ted Dekker’s The Priest’s Graveyard, which I’m sure will be very creepy - not sure whether that’s the kind of reading mood I’m in right now.  I just need something really gripping to read for the next few days, before I start reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover in earnest.

I think that’s all for today.

Bye for now!

Sunday 13 January 2013

Mmm... tea and book talk on a Sunday morning...

I've had a rather strange week, which did not include much reading, so I may not have much to tell you, but here goes...

I finished listening to the audio version of Alice Hoffman's Blue Diary.  If you recall, this is the story of a family in a small town outside of Boston that seems too good to be true, and so when the husband is arrested for the rape and murder of a girl in another town fifteen years earlier, the family and the town are shattered.  I mentioned that I wasn't really enjoying it, but that I would stick with it because I enjoy stories about people's secret lives revealed.  Well, I did not enjoy it, and I think it's because it wasn't really about the man's hidden secrets so much as it was about the relationships of the people in the town.  But not the immediate relationships, more the past relationships, doled out to the reader in small "Timbit"-sized portions, leading nowhere.  I guess I wanted the "whole donut".  The novel is told in two narrative voices, the omniscient voice that represents the whole town and the past and present lives of the adults who grew up there, and the direct first-person voice of Kat, an adolescent girl who is best friends with the accused man's son.  Although I don't usually like stories narrated by children, teens or pre-teens, I preferred Kat's sections to the omniscient sections, which, unfortunately for me, made up most of the novel.  I was then checking my MP3 player for other books I've downloaded to start something else, and found that I had downloaded  two more of Hoffman's titles, which I started listeneing to.  Both titles began very much the way this one had, so I stopped right then and there.  My other readily-available options were Maeve Binchy and Agatha Christie, so I chose Firefly Summer, which may be Binchy's fist novel.  It's got 19 parts, so I think it will take me a while to get through it, but I'm sure it will be enjoyable.  Hurray!!

I've been trying to read this past week, but it's been a rather distjointed one for me, and so I haven't finished even one novel.  I started reading The First Lady Chatterley by D.H. Lawrence, which I borrowed from the library last weekend, and I have to say, knowing that I will be reading the later version for my book club meeting, it seemed a waste to read this previous, in my opinion much flatter, version.  If I recall correctly, the final version, Lady Chatterley's Lover, offers so much more emotion and context to the reader, and the characters are so much fuller.  So I stopped reading that after a few days.  Then I started reading Blue Monday, a novel by Nicci French which was recommended to me. It is the first in a new series by French, and tells the story of a psychologist with a patient who describes a dream in which he has a child, a child who resembles too closely an actual child abducted recently, and the ensuing investigation.  I've listened to other audiobooks by this author (really a husband-and-wife team) and found them enjoyable, but I suspected that they may not be the types of books I would like to actually read, and I found this to be the case.  I may give it another try later, but it just didn't grab me at this time.  Then I started reading a novel by Kate Grenville, an author one of my book club ladies has recommended to me.  The novel is The Idea of Perfection and tells the story of a divorced man and a quirky woman who meet in a small town in New South Wales.  I have a copy of this book, and may read it at some other time, but again, it just didn't grab me.  I think it's the writing style, too choppy, like a stutter, with not enough full paragraphs or even full dialogue exchanges between characters.  

I was getting worried, as I was starting to think the problem was with me, but then I picked up Michael Robotham's new novel, Say You're Sorry, from the library yesterday, and I knew the problem was not me, it was the book selections.  I began this 400+ page British mystery novel yesterday afternoon and am a quarter of the way through already.  I wanted to read more, but needed to rest my eyes.  It's fabulous, and I will write more about it when I've finished it.  I'm so happy and reassured that I've not gone off reading! 

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Sunday 6 January 2013

First post for 2013...

On this very snowy Sunday morning, the first of the new year, I have a steaming cup of masala chai tea by my side as I think about the past week’s reading experiences.

I had a book club meeting on Friday morning, where we discussed Peace Like A River by Leif Enger, published in 2001.  This novel tells the story of a motherless family in the American Mid-west in 1962.  Jeremiah Land is the father of 16-year old Davy, 11-year old Reuben, who is asthmatic, and 9-year old Swede, their sister.  When two boys from school, Isreal and Tommy, try to attack Davy’s girlfriend in the locker room after school, Jeremiah, who is the janitor, breaks it up.  These boys threaten the Land family, going so far as to abduct Swede and take her for a ride in their car one night.  When they come into the Land family home some nights later carrying baseball bats, Davy is ready with a gun and shoots them both dead.  Davy is charged with their murder, and, on the night before the trial ends, escapes prison and becomes a fugitive.  His father and siblings eventually go off to find him, with Mr. Andreeson, the federal agent, hot on their trail.  The rest of the novel follows this search, and the characters they meet during that time.  I was so pleased to discover that, when we went around the table at the beginning of the meeting to get each person’s first response to the novel, everyone LOVED it!  (I can’t remember the last time that happened).   They all wondered if he has written anything else (he has - So Brave, Young and Handsome in 2008).  What did they love about this book?  They loved the characters:  Swede, the writer of western poetry, Reuben, the narrator, both children mature beyond their years, Jeremiah, their spiritual father who has tremendous faith, but seems just a bit out of touch with his children and with the world around him, and the other cast of characters who come into the story along the way, but who I will not mention here for fear of giving something of the story away.  The loved the humour in the story.  I was worried that this might be too bleak for us to read over the holidays, but I had forgotten how much subtle humour the writer infused while telling the rather dark story of a fugitive murderer on the run and his family’s search.  They loved the symbolism that is used throughout the novel, and the role of faith and religion which is significant to the story but is used in such a way that it is not overwhelming for the reader.  Several of my ladies felt that this novel reminded them of To Kill A Mockingbird in a number of different ways.  Both families are motherless, so the daughters, Scout and Swede, became tomboyish and wise beyond their years.  They are set in small American towns, and deal with loss of innocence.  Bob Ewell, father of Mayella in Mockingbird, is like Israel Finch’s grandfather, found wandering in a drunken stupor through the town.  As I was reading it, I was reminded again and again of John Irving’s novel A Prayer For Owen Meany.  The narrators in both are slightly whiny and jealous of those around them.  Both novels are written in a similar style, in that the narrator speaks directly to the reader, asking questions and challenging the reader to believe what the narrator is telling them.  Both take place in the US in the 1960s, and deal with themes of fate, destiny, predetermination, and faith.  And they all use subtle humour to relate a difficult story.  I hope our next book club selection is as unanimously enjoyed!

Speaking of our next selection, which is D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I am planning to go to the library today to pick up a copy of The First Lady Chatterley, which is the first draft of the novel that Lawrence published in 1928.  Some of my ladies have read James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and plan to bring it along to the meeting in February.  I considered reading Bared To You by Sylvia Day (I have a discarded copy in my collection), or even going back to that classic from 1978, 9 ½ Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill (also in my collection - how naughty!!), but then I stopped myself.  It somehow felt wrong to be reading other erotica fiction to prepare for a discussion of Lawrence’s novel, because his novel is NOT erotica.  From what I remember from past readings, it is primarily an exploration of relationships between individuals, the relationships of individuals with nature, and the class system in the UK at the time.  Since The First Lady Chatterley was the text that was originally published in Italy, I felt that it would be better for me to prepare for this meeting by reading the original draft and comparing it with the more famous final draft, published (posthumously?) by Lawrence’s wife.  I look forward to starting that novel today and then reading the final draft for the meeting.

This reminds me of that fabulous film “The Chatterley Affair” which I borrowed from the library quite some time ago, a film about the trial of Lawrence’s book which took place in the UK in the 1960s.  Perhaps once I read the novels, I will watch it again.  Speaking of films and novels, I went to see the film “Hitchcock” recently, which in turn inspired me to rent “Psycho”, which led me to begin rereading the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch - I’m slowly plugging away at that book while I’m between novels.  And  we watched “Dune” last night on DVD - my husband had never seen it.  Remember that movie, based on the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert?  Well, I haven’t read that novel in probably 20 years or more, but now I’m considering rereading it, too.  Books and films - they really do often go hand-in-hand.

Thanks to those who have sent book recommendations to me.  I appreciate it, and look forward to checking those novels out soon.  If you have any other suggestions, please pass them along!

Bye for now!