Sunday 26 January 2014

First post in my new chair...

We just bought a new recliner yesterday, which I’m sitting in right now, and it is so comfortable, I may never get up again!!  I feel like I’ve been swallowed up by a cloud, which is good, since I will spend more time reading if I am totally comfortable (unless, of course, I fall asleep!)

I finished reading The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan last night, and it proved to be just as engaging as it was at the start.  This Danish mystery novel tells the story of Anna Bella Nor, a PhD student and single mother who is scheduled to defend her thesis in just two weeks at the University of Copenhagen.  Her thesis adviser, Dr. Lars Helland, is well-respected and highly accomplished in his field, yet he is not very well-liked.  One day, another student, a friend of Anna’s, Johannes, shows up at the university for a meeting with Helland, and finds him dead in his office with a copy of Anna’s thesis in his hands.  Initial autopsy reports deem this a death by natural causes, a heart attack, but upon further examination, the medical examiner uncovers a bizarre twist to this death, which the police now consider murder.  The cast of strange, eccentric characters expands to include Troels, a young man who was a friend of Anna’s and who has become a successful model in the US, Soren, the police inspector heading up the Helland murder investigation, a man who has his own complex and hidden past, and Dr. Clive Freeman, a well-respected but controversial professor at the University of British Columbia who insists that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs, despite convincing evidence and long-held beliefs to the contrary.  When another murder occurs within this small circle of acquaintances, Soren and his team must determine if they are connected, and if they are looking for one murderer or two.  This well-researched, complex murder mystery will have you on the edge of your seat to the very last page, as you are drawn deeper into the cut-throat world of academic funding and research.  The backstories of most characters are complex and interesting, and while it may seem at first to be challenging to keep everyone’s stories straight, the author does a good job of recalling important details for the reader to help keep them in mind.  Sissel-Jo Gazan has a degree in Biology from the University of Copenhagen, which accounts for the complexity and detail presented in the novel.  This is her first book, which was published in 2008 in Denmark and won the Denmark Radio Literature Prize 2008 for Best Novel of the Year.  I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a complex mystery that also includes interesting character explorations.

And I am nearly finished listening to Unleashed by David Rosenfelt, the most recent book in the “Andy Carpenter” series.  I will write about that next week.

I must decide what to read next, a real challenge, as I have no library books at home waiting for me to read, and of my other books for review, I am not really interested in any of the titles right now.  I guess I will have to search my personal book shelves to find something that will grab my attention.  I think it is too early to start reading I Capture the Castle, which is my next book club selection – we are meeting in two weeks, and since I’ve read this title before, I doubt it will take me that long to finish it.  Hmmm… what can I read quickly that I will also enjoy?  Maybe I should pull out a Peter Robinson mystery – they always hold my attention and make me want to read for hours at a time.

Bye for now…

Sunday 19 January 2014

More tea and book talk...

I was going to “call in sick” today, as I have been sick for the past 5 days, but I’m a bit better today so I will try to write a short post.  Since I have not been feeling well, I have also not been reading much, which is unfortunate, as I hate wasting good reading time, and January weather seems to present plenty of days that I like to call “a perfect day for reading”.  Oh well, I’ve got the whole year to make up for this lost reading time.

I finished listening to an audiobook last week that was very good, Witch Hunt by Ian Rankin (writing as Jack Harvey).  I have not read or listened to many Ian Rankin mysteries, although I should enjoy them, as the novels in his most popular series, “Inspector Rebus”, are contemporary detective novels set in Edinburgh (maybe I will have to add them to my list of books to read, in order, when I have some free time – hahaha!  Free time… that’s an interesting concept!)  Anyway, I may have read one of the Inspector Rebus novels, and have watched the BBC adaptations of some of the books, and I have read one of his more recent books, I think it is called The Impossible Dead, a new series featuring Malcolm Fox, who heads up the Complaints Department, the least-loved department in the police force because they investigate other police.  I didn’t really know what to expect from this audiobook, but it grabbed me right away and held my attention to the very last sentence.  It tells the story of a woman nicknamed Witch who is a hired assassin, a woman who can change her appearance convincingly in a public toilet in under five minutes and seems to be able to gain access to just about anywhere she needs to be to carry out her assignments.  She is surprisingly agile and sharp, and can anticipate any problem she is likely to encounter, all useful skills for an assassin.  When a wealthy banker who has been an informer for the SIS is found dead in his Scottish home, and Witch’s signature is all over the murder, the SIS, MI-5, and the DST (the French equivalent to Britain’s MI-5) become involved, including three people who are determined to catch Witch before she completes her final mission, one she was not hired to perform, but a job she has personally vowed to complete.  The story takes readers from England to Scotland, from France to Germany, in this fast-paced European thriller that kept me on the edge of my bus-seat from beginning to end.  I was just reading on Rankin’s website that the Jack Harvey novels did not do very well, which I find surprising – I thought this novel was every bit as good as some of the other bestselling thrillers, even better than many.  Maybe the narration helped with my enjoyment level, as the narrator was very good at capturing the personalities of the various characters.  There was murder, chase scenes, a love story or two, young agents, retired agents, England, Scotland, France and Germany… what more could a reader ask for?  For this reader, the answer is “nothing”.  I will definitely check to see if the second Jack Harvey novel, Bleeding Hearts, is available to download.
And I am still plugging away at The Dinosaur Feather by S. J. Gazan.  It is really good, very detailed, and quite engaging.  I’m not quite half-way through, so I hope to be done by next week and can write a full review of it at that time.
OK, I have to end now and have another cup of soup, which will hopefully advance me further along the road to recovery.

Bye for now…

Sunday 12 January 2014

Sunday morning tea and book talk...

This has been a real book-club-focused week for me.  My “friends” book club met on Thursday night, my volunteer book club met on Friday morning, and I spoke with the staff at the Senior Day Program at the community centre where I volunteer to set up a book club date for the next book club meeting with their group.  So many book clubs, so little time…

My book club on Thursday night discussed The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, and WOW, was it ever a great discussion!  I enjoyed this book so much both times I read it that I was anxious to talk to someone else about it, which is the best part about a book club.  This meeting certainly did not disappoint, as this novel about the breakdown of a 20-year marriage gave us so much material to explore (if you would like a full summary of the plot, please see last week's post). We discussed many different aspects of the book, such as the suitability of Jodi and Todd as a couple, with all their personal quirks and idiosyncrasies, Jodi’s response to her childhood experiences, and whether they were realistic or not, and Todd’s responses to the situations that had become his reality.  We looked particularly at Jodi, her childhood experiences, her situation as an adult, a wife and a psychotherapist, and her reactions to the changes that she was potentially facing due to Todd’s situation.  There were points that I never thought of that we discussed, and which now make certain aspects of the novel more realistic or believable (I don’t want to give anything about the plot away here, so I’m being intentionally vague).  This novel is on the list for my volunteer book group to discuss in September, and I’m curious what their response might be, as compared to my other group.  I don’t doubt that it will be a very interesting discussion indeed.

My volunteer group met on Friday morning to discuss Annabel by Kathleen winter, which was a recommendation from at least two of the book club members.  I was reluctant to read it, as I was sure I would not like it, due to the strangeness of the storyline.  This novel is set in a small town in Labrador and begins with the birth of a child to Jacinta and Treadway in 1968.  Jacinta is from St John, and she never intended to stay in the small town for more than a couple of years.  Treadway is a trapper and hunter, and feels more at home out in the wilderness than in the home.  As a couple, they make compromises for one another, and as parents, they are forced to make a life-altering decision when their child is born with both male and female reproductive parts.  When the baby is very young, they must decide whether to raise their child as a boy or a girl, a decision that will have lasting effects on the child, the parents, their friend Thomasina, and the whole community, to a certain degree.  I’m usually reluctant to read books that features a main character with an unusual condition or deformity, although I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.  But this book was actually better than I expected, once I got past the first few chapters.  Some of the parts were somewhat unrealistic, but on the whole, it was an interesting read, and mostly well-written.  My ladies in the book club loved it.  They thought all the characters seemed very real, even the minor characters.  They felt that the struggles Treadway and Jacinta faced as parents of this child were realistic, and that they responded in ways that were believable.  They liked most of the main characters, although Thomasina seemed to be the character people had the most struggle with in terms of liking her or agreeing with her decisions and actions.  We discusses the roles of men and women, and how these roles were evolving in society, becoming less defined.  We thought the setting, both date in history and location, were significant, that if this child had been born in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver in the 1990's, this story would have been very different.  It was ultimately an uplifting book, but be warned that there are some emotionally difficult scenes.

And I read a lovely children’s novel the other day, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, about a young girl named India Opal whose father is the new preacher at a church in Naomi, Florida, where they have recently moved.  She has no friends and no mother, and her father is so caught up in his role as preacher for the community that, while he loves his daughter, he is often distant from her.  Opal adopts a stray dog whom she meets in the produce department of the Winn-Dixie grocery store, and her life turns around, all, she admits, because of Winn-Dixie.  It was a lovely, sad, uplifting novel about dealing with loss, making friends, and adapting to new surroundings.  This book was recommended to me by my niece, Sylvie, who told me over Christmas that it was her favourite book.  I think it might become one of my favourites, too.

I’m having a struggle deciding what to read next, as I have some “for review” books piled up in front of me, but none of these titles are grabbing my attention.  I have no committee books lined up to read right now, and so am at a bit of a loss… Maybe I will try to finish The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan, a book I started reading some time ago for review but then stopped.  It is a Danish crime novel, a “classic Scandinavian noir” (from the back cover) that features a PhD student who is working on a thesis about the origins of birds.  Just two weeks away from defending her thesis, her academic advisor is found dead in his office.  I haven’t got much further than that, but I recall that it was pretty good, so I think it will suit my reading mood right now (since it’s so dreary, snowy and overcast, I feel like I’m in Denmark!!)

That’s all for today. 

Bye for now…

Sunday 5 January 2014

First post of 2014...

With a steaming cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread on the table in front of me, it’s difficult to think about books when all I want to think about on this chilly, snowy morning is warm comfort foods and beverages.

As one often does with the start of the New Year, I recently took stock of my reading situation.  Last week I gave you a list of my top 10 favourite books and audiobooks of 2013.  When I was deciding on the audiobook selections, I was finding it harder to choose than with the books.  Yesterday I figured out how many books I read and listened to last year, which of course explains why this was more difficult.  I read 55 books and listened to 23 audiobooks.  If I can remember next year, I will limit my favourite audiobooks to 5, since I have less to choose from.  But I am surprised at the number of audiobooks I finished, as I always thought I got through about one book per month.  Of course it depends on the length of the book and how much time I devote to listening, but that is nearly twice the selections I thought I could get through.  That’s great!  (or maybe it’s sad… if you can believe it, I have a list of every book I’ve read since 1992 in chronological reading order, which is either amazing or pathetic, I’m not sure which!  Who needs to know what they read more than 20 years ago?)

Anyway, I reread The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison last week, as my “friends” book group is discussing it on Thursday evening.  It has been about 6 months since I first read and review this novel for the local paper, and it was just as good the second time around, maybe even better, since I knew what was going to happen at the end and so the significance of everything that was said and done by the main characters was clear to me as it was happening, rather than recalling things and figuring it out at the end.  There were also parts I had forgotten about that almost took me by surprise as I reread them, which was a treat.  In case you are unfamiliar with this title, this novel tells the story of the breakdown of a 20-year marriage between Jodi and Todd, told in alternating Her and Him chapters.  Jodi is a psychologist whose world is controlled and managed.  Todd is a real estate developer and a perpetual cheat.  When things spiral out of control and threaten to dismantle their affluent Chicago lifestyle, the situation will make one person a killer and the other a victim.  This dissection of the history of the main characters’ childhoods, how they became who they are, and how their marriage has lasted for 20 years based on significant compromise on both sides makes for a fascinating read.  While the novel offers both sides of the story and develops both characters equally well, in my opinion it is really Jodi’s story, although I believe it could be read and appreciated by both male and female readers.  Although these parts have been criticized by other reviewers, I particularly enjoyed the sections which offer a peek into Jodi’s psychotherapy sessions when she was a graduate student.  And what is left unsaid throughout the novel is at least as important as what is said.  It is absolutely the best book I’ve read in a long time, and my favourite book of 2013.  I’ve recommended it to so many people, I’ve lost count, and so far, the feedback has been very positive.

On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went to see the film adaptation of The Book Thief, a teen novel by Markus Zusak, about a young girl, Liesl, who is taken to a small town in Germany to live with a family shortly before the start of WWII, and her experiences over the next few years.  The novel is narrated by Death, who has taken Liesl’s younger brother while they were on the train with their mother going to the small town.  The mother is a Communist, so the children are being relocated to save them, but only one child survives the journey.  When Liesl arrives, it is discovered that she is unable to read, but with the patience of her new father and her own persistence, she becomes a voracious reader.  She befriends Rudy, the boy who lives down the street, but she must keep secret from him the arrival of Max, the young Jewish man her new family takes in and hides.  We read about the effects of war on the townspeople and the town itself,  but it is also a coming-of-age story for Liesl and Rudy during a difficult period in history.  The most significant thing about the book, as I recall (we discussed it for my book group about 18 months ago, so I don’t remember it very well), was that it was told from the point of view of Death.  This, in my opinion, did not translate well onto the screen, and I think it may have been a stronger film if that part was left out, but of course I understand why it was included.  My husband, who has not read the book, thought it was a moving and interesting film.  I thought it was just OK, not brilliant, but worth seeing. 

And I’m skimming my way through Annabell by Kathleen Winter for my next book club meeting on Friday morning.  I’ll write more about that after the meeting. 

That’s all for today!  Happy 2014!

Bye for now…