Sunday, 25 January 2015

Tea, book talk and haggis on a chilly Sunday morning...

In past posts, I’ve mentioned Vanilla Scones from Future Bakery, which are a favourite treat of mine that are often difficult to find.  Well, I was lucky enough yesterday at the Kitchener Market to find one of these, and am eating it now with a steaming cup of delicious chai tea… mmmm!!  And, in honour of Robbie Burns Day, (January 25th), I made a pan of Vegetarian Haggis, which is also delicious, but it is a lot of work, so I usually only make it once a year.  I know almost nothing about Scottish poet Burns, except the famous lines “The best laid plans/of mice and me/ do oft go awry” from the poem To a Mouse.  But I use this day as encouragement to make this dish, which really is almost more work than it’s worth, but it is so very yummy.
Enough about food… I’m here to talk about books!  I just finished reading A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which is due out next month.  It tells the sprawling epic tale of the Whitshanks, a family in Baltimore who, to outsiders, seem like the perfect family.  Part One begins with Red and Abby, aging parents of four adult children, receiving a phone call from their youngest son, wayward Denny, who tells Red that he is gay.  When he responds with surprise, Denny promptly hangs up, leaving Abby and Red worrying about him, but unable to contact him as he has not disclosed his whereabouts.  Red is the owner of a construction company, and although in his 70s, he still participates in the hands-on part of the job.  Abby is a semi-retired social worker who continues to open her home to “strays”, just as she has done over the years.  When Abby starts to wander and later can’t recall where she’s been, her children worry that they need help, but Red and Abby refuse their offers.  Only when Red has a heart attack do they accept that things must change.  Daughters Jeannie and Amanda take charge, and son Stem and his family move in to help out.  When prodigal son Denny appears at the door, also wanting to move in and help out, strains between family members escalate as family secrets are revealed and we discover that all is not what it seems.  When a sudden death occurs, rocking the family to its core, tensions mount as solutions are sought and discarded in an attempt to cope with the resulting situation.  Part Two begins, “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green morning in July of 1959…”, the phrase that is always used to begin the oft-repeated story of how Abby and Red fell in love.  Tyler offers the story behind the story, and we as readers feel that we are getting to know these characters on a deeper level.  In Part Three, we are taken back several decades earlier, to the time when Red’s parents, Linnie Mae and Junior, are moving into the Brills’ house as a young family.  We learn of Junior’s origins, and the truth behind the much-admired family on Boulton Street.  Never over-the-top, always presented with honesty and sensitivity, this sprawling family epic portrays the drama of one family over generations, whose members will make you laugh and cry as you are pulled into the drama that is their lives.  This is the only book I’ve read by this award-winning American novelist, and while it is not exactly my favourite genre, her use of language often captured the essence of the scene precisely.  I did find it too long and drawn-out, and I didn’t really get all the information I wanted about some of the family members’ stories, particularly the children, but I would definitely recommend this to anyone who has read her works in the past, or anyone who enjoys domestic fiction or family sagas.
Not sure what I will read next, but I want something that is fast-paced and engaging, maybe The Secret Place by Irish mystery writer Tana French.  With the windchill today not getting much above -16 degrees, I think it will be a good afternoon to stay inside where it is warm and read, read, read. 
Happy Robbie Burns Day!

Bye for now…
Julie

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