Sunday 27 April 2014

Long post for the end of April...

Oh my, I have so much to tell you about today… I think I need a larger tea pot to make enough chai tea to keep me sipping while I write!  Where to start…

I’ll start with the book sale, which I mentioned in a post last week.  I went after work on Friday, but I was tired, it was raining, I was on a schedule, and I knew I didn’t really need any more books, so I managed to find only four titles that I thought would be interesting.  After all, I didn’t want to come away with nothing.  I picked up two titles that I have read before, Zoë Heller’s What Was She Thinking:  Notes on a Scandal, which I may put on our book club list for next year, and S J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, which I think has recently been made into a movie, but which is an awesome book.  Then I got two titles by authors whose works I want to start reading or want to read more of:  Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, and The Collected Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I’ll admit that my interest in Sherlock Holmes came about because I have recently become a devotee of the British series “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman).  I also picked up a paperback copy of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which I wanted to have on hand in case I felt like reading that early gothic novel.  As we were out on Saturday morning, I suggested to my husband that we swing by the book sale again, since I knew that this would be the time when they would have the “Fill your bag or box for $5.00” deal.  Friday is the best time to go if you are looking for particular books or authors, as the selection is greater, but Saturday is best if you want to pick up titles by authors you are curious about but don’t know whether you’ll like their writing, or if you just want to try something new.  I came away with a few titles that I will pass on to a friend, since I think she will like them.  But I also got a number of books for myself that I know nothing about:  Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky, an early book by Orange Prize-winning author Andrea Levy, a novel by Kate Christensen, one by Peter Hedges and Ha Jin, a mystery by Akë Edwardson, a memoir by Maria Coletta McLean about living in Italy, and a book of letters by Governor General award-winning non-fiction author Karen Connelly (I didn’t know who she was when I picked up the book, but it had a great cover, so I added it to my bag).  I hope that I will enjoy at least a couple of these “unknowns”, but if they don’t appeal to me, I can always pass them on to others or donate them to a good cause.   So that was great fun, and worth the brief diversion from our Saturday schedule.

I also want to mention that The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray has been chosen as the One Book, One Community selection for this year.  This book is also on The OLA Evergreen 2014 list of nominees (, and although I haven’t yet read it, I’m sure it is a good read.  A brief summary:  In February of 1915, a member of one of Canada’s wealthiest families was shot and killed on the front porch of his home in Toronto as he was returning from work.  Carrie Davies, an 18-year old domestic servant, quickly confessed to the murder, but who was the real victim here, Charles Massey, a scion of a famous family, or the frightened, perhaps mentally unstable, Carrie, a poor British immigrant?  Set against the backdrop of the Great War, this sensation crime and trial is brought to life for the first time by award-winning historian and biographer Gray.  The link for the One Book, One Community site is on the right-hand side of this blog, under "Book-related sites", if you want more information about this title or this program.
I have finished listening to Leonard Rosen’s second book, The Tenth Witness, recently.  This novel is the prequel to All Cry Chaos, which I also recently enjoyed.  In this prequel, the main character, Henri Poincaré, is not yet working for Interpol.  He is a young man just starting out in an engineering business with his friend Alex.  It is 1978, and they have just been offered a job by Lloyds of London to design a dock to be used for the retrieval of the HMS Lutine, a Dutch ship that sank off the Dutch coast in 1799.  The insurance company expects to find bars of gold, but what Henri discovers instead, upon making the acquaintance of Liesel and Anselm Kraus, is a complex and dangerous family history which leads him back to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and the use of slave labour in the production of steel for the Nazis by Kraus Steel.  The closer he gets to members of the Kraus family, the more he is drawn into this investigation and the six degrees of separation that unite his recently deceased neighbour and friend, and the powerful men who committed heinous war crimes and were offered opportunities to seek refuge from the law and “disappear” into new identities in other parts of the world after the war.  This excellent novel is at least as compelling as All Cry Chaos, which I really enjoyed.  Be prepared to get caught up in the mystery, and make sure you have plenty of reading time for this one – you don’t want to read it in dribs and drabs, but will want to devour whole huge chunks of the book in one sitting. 

And last but not least (well, maybe ‘least” is the right word), I finished a book that I read for my committee, Somewhere In-Between by Donna Milner.  This recently-published Canadian novel is set in rural British Columbia, and tells the story of a couple, Julie and Ian O’Dale, who have recently lost their 16-year old daughter Darla in a car accident.  They each blame themselves, and are unable to talk about their grief.  Thinking that a change of residence may help, former real estate agent Julie agrees to Ian’s wish to purchase an isolated ranch with its own lake on the outskirts of the town in which they currently live, a town that holds too many memories of Darla.  With the purchase of the ranch comes the occupant of the trapper’s cabin near the lake, Virgil Blue, a Native Indian who keeps the ranch running while keeping to himself.  This mystery man, whose life holds many sorrows, seems to be the one thing that Julie and Ian are able to talk about, as their marriage disintegrates further over the first few months they spend at the ranch.  Only when another near-tragic event occurs are they able to get past their grief and reach a stage of acceptance and an ability to move on.  With spirit bears and dreamcatchers, voices from beyond the grave and sweat lodges, this book offers insight into the myths and legends of Native Indians, while also presenting one family’s struggles to deal with loss and grief.  Unfortunately, this reader found that the novel often felt heavy-handed and forced, instead of uplifting and spiritual.  That is not to say that other readers would not enjoy this book, just that I didn’t particularly like it.  But I was compelled to read it to the end, to find out how they found peace, and also to see what happened to Virgil, in my opinion the most interesting character in the book.

That’s all for now (I’ve run out of tea, and am ready for breakfast).  Have a great day!

Bye for now…

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Quick note...

Just a quick note to remind anyone in the KW area that the 50th Annual CFUW Used Booksale is happening this weekend at the First United Church at King and William Streets in Waterloo.  The hours are 9am-9pm Friday, April 25th and 9am-1pm on Saturday, April 26th.  I don't need any more books (I actually need more bookshelves!), but I will go again this year, as I do every year, and will surely return home with a bag full of excellent books purchased at very reasonable prices.  I look forward to it every year, and this year is no exception.  It is a guilt-free shopping experience, since it helps to raise money for university scholarships, while also finding homes for countless previously-loved books.

If you come out for the sale, happy shopping!

Friday 18 April 2014

Short post on a long weekend...

On this long Easter weekend, I am looking forward to enjoying some good weather, a good family visit, and some quality reading time.  Right now, as I sip my cup of chai tea, I have a couple of books I want to tell you about.  Also, Julie’s Reading Corner is 3 years old this weekend – Happy Birthday!!

I finished reading The Ever After of Ashwin Rao earlier this week, and I felt that the ending somewhat redeemed the otherwise wandering, rather directionless narrative and story.  If you recall, the main character of this novel is Ashwin Rao, an Indian-Canadian therapist who, nearly twenty years after the Air India bombings, returns to Canada to interview some of the relatives and friends of the victims who died in the crash that killed 329 people.  Using his Narrative Therapy approach, Rao intends to tell the stories of the ways in which these people coped with their loss and to write a book, with the intention of possibly helping others cope with similar loss.  When he becomes close to one family and set of friends in particular, he identifies with them in various ways, and learns to deal with his own loss.  I really wanted to love this book, but felt it wandered off-topic too often, and the inclusion of too many historical and political details seemed to derail the direction of the story.  I’m glad I read to the end, though, as the last couple of chapters really focused on the plots and characters I was most interested in, and brought the story to a satisfying conclusion.  I would say it was a worthwhile read, but any potential reader should be warned that patience is required to get through this book.

Then I picked up Ray Robertson’s novel, I Was There The Night He Died, which I read for several reasons.  First, it is a book I will review for the local paper.  It is also a book we may consider for the committee I’m on.  And the author’s hometown in Chatham, Ontario, where the book is set – this is also my hometown, so I was curious to read what he has to say about it.  This book is told from the point of view of Sam Samson, a novelist who lives in Toronto but who returns to Chatham to help out his father, who is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.  Sam has recently experienced the loss of his wife and dog, and seems to be stuck at a particular stage in the grieving process.  He meets Samantha, the teenage girl who lives across the street, with whom he regularly shares a joint in the park.  This, and their late-night conversations, including the discussion of the dead musicians about whom Sam is writing,  seems to help them both deal with loss and loneliness, and gives them the courage to face their lives and endure whatever will come next.   This novel is about middle age and returning to a hometown you thought you left behind long ago, about coming to terms with who you are, and about finally accepting it and moving on.  Robertson’s depiction of Chatham is spot-on, a place where nothing much ever changes, but where you can always feel at home.  In this simple story told in a straight-forward style, there were, as times, moments of insight that came as a surprise to this reader.  Like when he writes, near the beginning of the book, “Poetry isn’t big words saying not all that much… Poetry is a magnifying glass that makes the stuff that makes up the world come closer so that the reader can see it better and know it better and live it better.  Even the bad stuff.  Maybe even especially the bad stuff.”  Perhaps because most of the novel is written in a simplistic style, these moments of insight are so significant and memorable.  I’m biased about this book, since every location and event he writes about or describes, I can picture, because I grew up there at about the same time as the author.  I also lived in Toronto around the same time, so reading about his experiences was almost like reading about my own experiences, which was pretty strange, but fascinating, too.  Not great literature, and not sure how much a reader would enjoy this novel if not familiar with the town, but I thought it was a worthwhile read if only for the journey Sam makes throughout the novel until he reaches his destination in the end.  It was a bit like being in a 223-page Country song, where you lose the farm, you lose your wife, you lose your dog, but somehow you just keep going.

Not sure what I will read next, but I have a few books to choose from.  I will wait to see what kind of mood I’m in later today, but for now, I think it’s time to get outside and enjoy the overcast, but relatively mild, day.  Happy Easter everyone!

Bye for now…

PS If anyone noticed something different about the format of last week's post, sorry about that.  I had some technical difficulties, so did the best I could to make it readable without having to rewrite the whole entry.  I think I've got everything resolved for this week.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Tea and books on a mid-April morning...

I’m enjoying a cup of tea with the back door open, allowing the pleasant sounds of birdsong to filter into the house, accompanying my typing – what a joy!  All the wonderful pleasures we forget during the cold, insulated winter months, like the smell of freshly laundered sheets sun-dried on the clothesline… mmm!  I thought it was supposed to rain all day today, but the forecast has changed and so things are looking up!

Early last week I finished listening to an audiobook, The Shanghai Moon:  A Lydia Chin and Bill Smith Mystery by S J Rozan.  Set in New York, this novel begins with Private Investigator Chin being contacted by friend and colleague Joel Pilarsky to help with a case he is working on, assisting Alice Fairchild with an Asset Recovery Project.  The assets in this particular case involve a collection of jewellery lost or stolen in the Shanghai Jewish ghettos during WWII, and which may include a famous broach, the Shanghai Moon, rumoured to have gone missing during a robbery in the ghetto in the 1940s.  The owners of the jewellery were Rosalie Gilder, a young German Jew who escaped Hitler’s camps with her brother, Paul, in the late 1930s, sent to Shanghai as refugees after other countries had closed their borders, and Wan Kai Ran, the Chinese officer Rosalie met on the ship headed to Shanghai (any errors with the spelling of names is entirely my fault, as I did not see any printed pages of this book, so I can only go by my recollection and the narrator’s pronunciation).  They fall in love, marry and as a symbol of their undying love, have a broach made by combining the gems of two precious family pieces, a broach which, supposedly, Rosalie never took off.  Joel asks Lydia’s help because, as a Chinese American, she has the right connections and behaviour to access the Chinese community without being immediately dismissed.  When things get out-of hand and people start dying, Lydia realizes that there is more to the search for this broach than she has been told, and she calls on her sometimes-partner-in-crime, Bill Smith, to help her piece together the complex investigation.  This is the eighth or ninth in this series featuring Chin and Smith, but the first I have listened to, and I’m thrilled to discover a whole series of mysteries I can now download and enjoy.  Lydia is smart, but not too smart, sassy, but not too sassy, and this novel had just a hint of sexual tension without dwelling on the theme or offering explicit details.  It was a delightful listening experience, and not just because it was an interesting story (I’ll admit that I lost track of the details by the end, but it all worked out alright, so that was great).  I particularly enjoyed the narrator’s style, especially when she did the voices of Lydia’s mother and Shanghai Police Department Detective Wei.  If I download others in this series, I will have to check to see if the same narrator is used.

I’m nearly finished reading The Ever After of Ahswim Rao by Padma Viswanathan, which I’m reading for my committee.  The story is narrated by Ashwin Rao, an Indian-Canadian therapist who, twenty years after the Air India bombings, returns to Canada to interview some of the people who had lost family or friends in the attack, with the intent of writing a book using his Narrative Therapy technique, which he hopes will, in turn, help others who have faced similar loss.  As two suspects stand trial in Vancouver, Ashwin is unexpectedly moved by the news updates.  He becomes particularly close to the husband and family friends of a mother and son who were killed in the bombing, and finds that he can identify with their loss as well as the methods they use to cope, and thus begins to chip away at the walls he has built around himself.  This novel sounded really interesting to me for a few reasons.  I know almost nothing about the Air India bombings, but feel that I know so much more now, including the responses, or lack thereof, from the Canadian government at the time.  I also enjoy novels that look at psychology and the psychological responses of characters.  I plan to finish this today, but have found that it was a slow read, and not quite as interesting as it sounded to me at first.  The narrative seemed to wander quite a bit, and it was often difficult to know where or when some events are taking place, and who is narrating at that time.  Having said that, Viswanathan is clearly a talented writer, and I’m curious howI will feel after reaching the end of the book.

Time to get outside in case it decides to rain!

Bye for now…

Sunday 6 April 2014

Books and tea, and sunshine!

It’s warm-ish and sunny outside today, so while I’m enjoying my cup of chai and warm Banana Bread and really want to tell you all about my reading experiences over the past week, I also really want to get outside and enjoy this sudden change in weather, after yesterday’s cold, windy bitterness.
I had to put aside that excellent novel I was reading, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss novelist Joël Dicker, in order to read that other excellent, but very different, novel Property by Valerie Martin for my book club, which met yesterday.  Property is narrated by Manon Gaudet, the wife of a plantation owner and slave owner outside of New Orleans in 1828.  It opens with Manon watching through the window as her husband plays a “game” with some of the slave boys, a game that inevitably ends in a beating of at least one of the participants.   Manon is not a happily married woman, having to face daily the insolent attitude of her maid, Sarah, with whom her husband demands regular conjugal visits, and who has borne him one wild, ill-behaved son and now a young daughter who is described by Sarah as both dark and ugly.  She wishes for freedom from the husband, and as events occur, her dislike of Sarah grows.  When a revolt takes place on the plantation and Manon is attacked and wounded, her fate takes a turn.  As she seeks to assert her power and authority once again, her true character is revealed and the reader is left wondering how much is dependent on inherent character and how much is a product of the social conditions at the time.  I won’t want to say any more about the details in the novel, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may decide to read it, but I feel safe in highlighing some of our discussion points.  We discussed the roles of women during this time in history, and how Manon, for all her supposed “freedom” as the wife of a plantation owner, is as trapped as Sarah, but in a different way, and to a different degree.  We discussed Walter, Sarah’s wild son, who belongs nowhere and so is forgotten or ignored.  We discussed slavery, and what it means to be “owned”, and who really has freedom, even today.  We discussed the title, Property, how such a simple title can be ambiguous, but can also be applied to nearly every character in the novel.  This short novel, less than 200 pages, tells such a strong, dark, compelling story, taking the reader inside the mind of Manon and revealing how the power of ownership can corrupt one’s character beyond recognition.  Winner of the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction, this novel is compelling enough to read in a single sitting and will leave readers rethinking everything they have come to expect from female characters.

Then I finished the Joël Dicker novel, which did not disappoint.  If you recall, this book is told from the point of view of Marcus Goldman, a young New York writer.  Facing prolonged writer’s block, he turns to his friend and mentor, writer Harry Quebert, and visits him at his seaside house in Somerset for some R&R.  Shortly thereafter, Harry is arrested for the murder of Nola Kellergan, a young girl who has been dead for over thirty years, and with whom Harry fell in love during the summer of 1975, and whose body has recently been discovered buried in Harry’s back yard.  As Marcus investigates people and events in and around Somerset, he uncovers truths and cover-ups that take him further and further into a world he never imagined existed.  Half-truths and lies, characters, stories and past events merge together in this novel-within-a-novel that kept this reader glued to her seat until the very last page.  While it may have seemed a bit overlong and unnecessarily complicated during the initial reading, the surprising ending neatly wraps up any loose ends, and conveniently details the events that actually lead up to Nola’s, and other subsequent murders. While I was glad to finally reach the end of this lengthy novel, I was also a bit sad to say good-bye to the characters I felt I’d come to know during my reading.  Originally published in French in September 2012, the English translation will be available in May of this year.   
Time to get outside and enjoy the day!

Bye for now…