Sunday, 30 August 2015

Last post for August...

On this hazy, humid Sunday morning, as I sip my chai tea and nibble away at a yummy vanilla scone, I am lamenting the passing of summer.  I love the fall weather, with its refreshing, bright days and cool nights.  I love wearing sweaters and jeans and putting on a jacket, bundling up to stay warm.  And of course I love the changing colours of the leaves, the fiery brilliance that can be found everywhere, and can turn even the most mundane country road into an awesome collage of colours.  But there is always, for me, a sense of nostalgia, a sense of an ending, and of course a new beginning, when September comes around.  It is a time when I take stock of my life, reexamine what I’ve done, where I am, and where I want to be.  More than ever, since I’ve been working according to the school calendar, I am experiencing this, as I gear up to return to work tomorrow morning.  Fall is also the time when many great books are published and excellent films are released, just in time for awards season.  I’m looking forward to that, too.  Fall is my favourite season for so many reasons, but I'm also always a bit wistful at this time of year.


I read two awesome books by Canadian writers this past week (I’m also lamenting the passing of my “two books per week” reading time!) The first was debut novel The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger, which opens with a man driving down a deserted road through the woods late at night, distracted by his search for a small metal tin.  Suddenly a face appears in the headlights of his car, followed by an unmistakable thump.  The man gets out of the car to check for the person, and finds her in the ditch, legs sticking unceremoniously out of the weeds.  He walks slowly and carefully back to the car, and leaves.  What follows is an exploration into the dynamics of one family, and the psychology of each member.  Tom is the single father of two grown children, Curtis, 22 and Erin, 17.  His wife, Elka, walked out when Erin was only months old, and has never been seen again.  Tom runs a tree-planting company in northern BC, and hopes to sell up and buy a secluded cabin the the woods at the end of the planting season.  But he faces challenges as Curtis appears more troubled than usual.  He tries to connect with both Curtis and Erin, who is becoming a young woman before his eyes, but, while he can fix anything around the house, he doesn’t know how to fix his broken family.  When forced to make a choice, can Tom and Curtis find the strength to do the right thing? This novel is so many things:  a mystery, an adventure, even a bit of a love story.  But for me it seemed to be mainly about different relationships:  fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, relationships within communities, the relationships man has with the earth and with nature, and even the relationship man has within himself, and the ways a person must come to terms with who he or she is.  The descriptions of the wilds of the west coast were detailed and elegant, and the exploration into the inner working of a family headed by a man who is more comfortable alone in the woods than taking care of two children is done with sensitivity and skill.  While there were parts of the novel that felt like a bit of rambling, these parts were short, and were ultimately necessary to create the whole fabric of the family, setting and community.  Although the author is a woman, she does an excellent job of portraying the inner life and thoughts of Tom, a male character, and even Curtis, his son.  Strange that she doesn’t write about Erin’s thoughts or experiences, since she is the only female who is also a character central to the story.  I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys character-driven novels, or for anyone who likes novels set in parts of Canada that they are not familiar with.
 
And I read Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir, a mystery set in modern-day Montreal that explores the unsavoury past of this great city.  Martine LeDuc works as a PR person for the city, promoting events and helping to keep the tourist industry flourishing.  When a fourth body is discovered on a park bench, raped, murdered and displayed publicly, as were three previous bodies, Martine is enlisted to be a liaison between the team of police and detectives working on the cases and the mayor.  Could there be a serial killer loose in Montreal?  This would seriously impact the tourist trade, and everyone wants this murderer found and the case wrapped up as soon as possible.  When Martine pairs up with Julian Fletcher, a rich-boy-turned-detective, they uncover possible links to the city’s past, reaching back to the 1950s, when orphans and mental patients were subjected to experimental treatments of all kinds, including drugs, electroshock therapy, and even lobotomies.  The police suspect that the crimes are the work of a sexually motivated serial killer, but the victims were all different ages, social classes and appearances.  Martine and Fletcher dig deeper into the city's terrible past, a past that someone wants to stay hidden… someone who will stop at nothing to see that this happens.  I am a huge fan of the tv series “Criminal Minds”, and this book was a bit like “Criminal Minds:  Montreal”.  It was fast-paced, descriptive, gruesome, horrific, and unputdownable (my new favourite word!).  The author did a good job of not only highlighting Montreal's shocking past, but of also describing in detail the beauty and splendor of the city, much as Martine would have done in her PR job.  The author’s note at the end of the book described the real events on which the book was based, facts that are horrifying without any fictional embellishment.  It made this reader think about these events, and wonder how this could have happened, and if it happened then, what could still be happening now?  Not a cozy mystery, for sure, but one that is sure to hold the interest of mystery lovers who are not squeamish.


That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sun while it’s out!!

Bye for now…
Julie

Monday, 24 August 2015

Short-ish post on a cool Monday afternoon...

We hosted the annual summer BBQ for my husband’s family yesterday, so between preparing and cleaning up (and of course enjoying myself!), this is the first chance I’ve had to write a post.  Despite not really being in a blogging mood, I will write now, since I can’t seem to really engage with a new book until I’ve posted about the last book(s) I’ve read and I want to make the most of my extra reading time during the last week I have off before going back to work next Monday.


I read two books last week.  The first was Devil’s Pass by Sigmund Brouwer, a Young Adult novel that is part of the Seven series that I’ve mentioned in the past.  This is the third in this series that I’ve read so far, and it was as good as the others.  I don’t usually enjoy reading YA novels, but this one, like the others, was “unputdownable”.  In summary: This series is made up of seven books by seven different Canadian authors and are told from the points of view of the seven grandsons of revered David Maclean, now deceased.  While attending the reading of his will, each grandson is taken aside separately and given instructions detailed by David to complete tasks that he himself had been unable to undertake and complete during his lifetime.  This book is told from the point of view of 17-year-old Jim Webb, who, at the time of his grandfather’s death, has been living on the streets of Toronto for nearly a year, a life greatly preferable to living with his abusive stepfather.  His task is to head far up north to the Canol Trail, where he is given instructions to search for something that may have been lost decades earlier.  If found, the discovery would confirm his grandfather’s suspicions.  Along the way, Webb encounters adventures, dangers and friendships in the most unlikely places, and struggles to complete his task and fulfill his grandfather’s wishes while also dealing with his own issues.  Even though this novel is geared towards students in grades 7 and 8, I found myself making extra time to read because I wanted to find out what Maclean wanted Webb to find, and, if found, what it could mean all these years later.  I also appreciated the adventure of the plot and current-ness of the writing, without sex, profanity or graphic violence.  I think kids today can still enjoy what I would call “a good book”, a book that is “good” on its own, that doesn’t rely on shock value to gain readers.  I will try to get to the other four in this series before Christmas, then maybe I will have to start on the Sequels.  There is also a new series coming out soon, Secrets, about seven girls who find that they are out on their own after the orphanage where they resided burned to the ground.  That should be interesting, too, and I can’t wait to order them for my school libraries.


The next book I read was No Cure for Love by Peter Robinson, one of his standalone novels, and the only one that takes place almost entirely in Los Angeles.  Sarah Broughton is the up-and-coming star of a new police series, Good Cop, Bad Cop, when she starts receiving creepy letters from someone who identifies himself only as “M”.  Shortly before she is due to return home to England for the Christmas holidays, she receives a letter that is more personal than the last two, one that also demonstrates that the writer actually knows Sarah, for he refers to her as “little star” and calls her Sally, which was her name before she began starring on the TV show and changed it.  She brings this letter to her producer, who passes it on to a detective friend of his, and gets reassurances that it probably wouldn’t escalate into a dangerous situation for Sarah.  When, on the morning of her departure, she finds a dead body buried on the beach where she runs every morning, she reports it to the police, but is again reassured that the murder and the letters are probably not linked.  She has a niggling feeling that the phrase “little star” means something for her, but she can’t quite remember what significance it has.  She puts all of this out of her mind as she visits family in England, but when more letters arrive and another death occurs, she begins to take her situation more seriously, and delves into the hazy memories of her past to uncover clues that may lead the detectives to the murderer before it is too late.  I’ve read this book before, but it has been reissued with a Forward by Michael Connelly on the 20th anniversary of its original publication.  I reread it with the intention of reviewing it, but I was pretty disappointed in the novel on the whole.  The writing didn’t flow as it does in other novels, and it felt forced, sort of the way I feel when I wear bright colours just to try something different, but can’t wait to get home and change into what I’m really comfortable in, blacks, browns, grays, and greens.  It was pretty graphic, and Robinson used profanity in abundance, and in my opinion, this was totally unnecessary.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was written 20 years ago, and nothing has been changed, but it was still hard to really “enjoy” the book.  So I opted not to write a review, as I wouldn’t want to write an unfavourable review of one of Robinson’s books when he is really an awesome writer.  I just think maybe he should stick with the very suspenseful books he’s so good at writing, British mysteries.  He clearly has a fondness for California, though, as the location crops up in other novels of his:  the main character in Before the Poison, Chris Lowndes, writes music scores for Hollywood films, but returns home to Yorkshire following the sudden death of his wife;  and at the beginning of the novel Bad Boy, DCI Alan Banks is on an extended vacation in California following a particularly difficult case.  I guess I would only recommend No Cure for Love to existing Robinson fans, as I don’t really feel that it justly represents his talent as a writer, and even for existing fans, it’s not really one of his best, so better to stick to his other books.  If you’ve only read his “DCI Banks” series and want to try a standalone, I would definitely recommend Before the Poison or his early mystery Caedmon’s Song.


And I finished listening to two audiobooks this past week.  The first was also a Young Adult novel, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, a book my husband and I have been listening to since our extended summer driving trips began in July.  This novel, which my good friend in Toronto has been urging me to read for a couple of years now, is told from the point of view of Marcus, or W1n5t0n/M1k3y, a high school student/computer whiz who, after skipping out of school early one day, is caught in the aftermath of a terrorist bomb attack on a major San Francisco commuter bridge.  He and his group of friends are taken to a prison, tortured and interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before being released and instructed to tell no one of their experiences in the prison.  What follows is an infringement of their Bill of Rights as freedoms and liberties are stripped one after another in the name of tightened security measures as implemented by the DHS.  Marcus takes on the responsibility of forming an underground computer network to bypass these security measures and restore the rights and freedoms to the citizens of San Francisco, but his endeavours may be backfiring, endangering the freedom of more individuals, including the girl he loves, or possibly even putting their lives at risk.  The narrator did an excellent job of representing Marcus’s plight and sounding like a teenager who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I’m glad to have finally had the opportunity to “read” this book, which is in the YA collection at both my schools’ libraries.  I don’t think it’s really appropriate for my students, being better suited to high school-aged readers, but it was an award winner (the White Pine award, which is grades 9-12), so I will keep it in the libraries.  It was definitely an interesting book, and tackled difficult issues about freedom and security, questioning who controls these things that we generally take for granted.  I’m not sure if I will give a book talk about this novel for my grade 8 students when we meet in September… I will have to give it some more thought.  


And I listened to a British mystery by Minette Walters, The Devil’s Feather, an audiobook I realized I’d listened to already, but since Walters’ books are always so detailed and complex, I can never remember what happens after a certain lapse of time anyway, so I kept with it and finished it earlier this afternoon.  It tells the story of Connie Burns, a war correspondent in Sierra Leone who suspects that there is a link between some horrific rapes and murders of women and British mercenary Keith McKenzie.  She encounters McKenzie again in Baghdad using another name, but her investigations uncover nothing useful, and she resigns to leave and take a much-needed break in England.  When she is abducted on her way to the airport, well-known terrorists groups are suspected, but none claims responsibility for her kidnapping.  When she is released, apparently unharmed, after just three days, the media accuse her of staging her own abduction for attention-seeking or monetary purposes.  Seeking refuge and solitude to deal with her trauma in her own way, Connie rents an isolated farmhouse in Dorset under another name and befriends Jess after a panic attack leaves her cowering and hyperventilating in her car upon her arrival.  As she struggles to deal with her post-traumatic stress, while fearing that her abductor may arrive at any moment to torment her further and possibly even kill her, she becomes involved in the complex relationships of the people who most immediately surround her - neighbour Jess and her five large mastiffs, Peter Coleman, the village doctor, and Madeleine Harrison-Wright, daughter of Lilly Wright, who owns the house where Connie is staying, but who is suffering advanced Alzheimer’s in a nursing home nearby.  Connie doesn’t always make the best choices, and readers are left hoping for the best while fearing the worst for the heroine in this nail-biter of a novel.  I have never actually read this book, only listened to it, but the fact that I could happily “re-listen” is probably recommendation enough for this excellent, complex psychological mystery.


OK, this was supposed to be a “short-ish” post, and at the end of last week’s post I promised to be brief this week, but it’s hard to be brief when I’ve read more than one book and finished more than one audiobook between postings.  After next week, I will be back to work, so I won’t have as much time to read (or write!), so my posts should be back to their normal length.  


Enjoy the rest of the cooler week!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Books, books, and more books on a hot summer day...

On this hot, humid morning, I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a yummy Cinnamon Hazelnut biscotti as I prepare to write a long post.  I’ve got two books and two audiobooks to tell you about today - clearly last week was devoted to reading and listening!


The first book I read was one that I received to review for the local paper, Camilla Gibb’s This is happy: a memoir.  I have never read anything by this bestselling, award-winning Canadian author, and I never, never read memoirs.  I thought it might be good to try her out, so I picked it up and put it in my “To Read for Review” pile.  Well, I got to it last week and read it in just two days!  The writing was excellent, and she told her story in an unsentimental way that was easy to read and appreciate without being too emotional.  When Gibb was just eight weeks into her pregnancy, her spouse shattered her world by announcing that she was leaving.  Faced with an uncertain future, she looked to her past in an attempt to create a family for her child while coming to terms with her own upbringing.  When she was a child, her parents emigrated from the UK to Canada, where they faced hardship in the form of familial difficulties and mental illness.  Gibb, along with her brother, struggled to survive their broken home and tainted childhood.  As a university student, Gibb sought to forge relationships and continue her studies, while also searching for a way to deal with the heavy weight of depression, with which she would continue to struggle for years.  Her studies and experiences led her to a life of writing, but this did not bring with it the happiness she had expected.  When finally she seemed to be free of the depression that had been weighing her down for the past decade, she and her partner decided to start a family.  But all did not turn out as planned, and Gibb was left to raise a child as a single parent.  A cast of characters came to her aid, including her long-lost brother, her Filipina nanny, and an East Coast grad student, all bound together by a new baby and the hope of new beginnings.  She talks about her struggle to balance new motherhood with her writing career, and her battles with mental illness in herself and her family members. Her words and feelings flowed across the page, sweeping this reader up into the events and emotions of her life and the lives of those around her. And like a flower that somehow manages to grow out of the cracked gray pavement, this family that is created, and this happiness, too, thrives despite inhospitable beginnings. Because I never read memoirs, I actually have nothing to compare it to, so maybe this is not really a well-written memoir, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed her fiction in the past, or anyone who enjoys memoirs about the challenges of motherhood.


Another book I read last week, also by a Canadian author, is Julie Lawson Timmer’s debut novel, Five Days Left.  This novel tells the parallel stories of Mara and Scott, two individual who are facing difficult situations in which they have just five days left before their situations change drastically.  Some years ago, Mara, a successful lawyer, wife and adoptive mother, was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, a terminal illness with a life expectancy of maybe 15 years after onset.  Refusing to live out her last remaining days at a nursing home and be a burden to her family, Mara, now only in her early forties, decides that after the occurrence of certain debilitating symptoms, she would take her own life on her next birthday.  After an incident in the grocery story on Monday, she decides that the time has come, and her next birthday is in five days.  Scott, an elementary teacher at a school in an economically depressed area, agrees to be the temporary guardian of the troubled younger brother of one of his former students while the boys’ mother serves a year-long jail sentence.  As her sentence is coming to an end, Scott struggles to accept that young Curtis will be better off with his mother, who often does not have enough food or clean clothes for him, and leaves him alone at night while she goes out with her questionable friends, rather than staying with him and his wife, in their spacious home, with plenty of food, and clothes, and all the comforts of a loving home.  Scott’s wife, though, is pregnant, after a struggle with infertility, and she is looking forward to having her own family, and having their lives back.  This novel is divided into five sections, one for each day, and the author writes about the struggles each character faces as the days go by, bringing them closer to their final moments.  OK, this is so not the type of book I normally enjoy, but this one sucked me right in and held me in rapt attention until the very last page.  Yes, it was emotional, but not overly so - Timmer managed to tell two heart-wrenching stories realistically, in detail, and with elegance.  This is her first novel, which is surprising, considering how polished and relatively "unsentimental" it is.  I would highly recommend this novel, especially to fans of Jodi Picoult (I know there are many!!).


And I finished two audiobooks last week.  The first was The Sea by John Banville, narrated by John Lee (my favourite narrator of all time!).  I have never read anything by this award-winning Irish author, and I will admit that I only downloaded it because of the narrator, not because I was really that interested in the book.  And I will also admit that, at the beginning, I was not very interested in it, but stuck with it because a) it was short and b) I was at a loss for anything else to listen to at the time.  And it turned out to be awesome!  This Booker Prize-winning novel tells the story of Max Morden, a retired art historian who returns to board at the cottage where he used to spend time as a child.  He relives his experiences from childhood, when the Graces, a wealthy family with two children and a nanny, came to stay at the Cedars across the street from Max.  He also reviews his life with his wife, Anna, from the time they met so many years ago to her recent death from cancer.  And he relays details to the reader about his current situation, the house-maid, Miss Vavasour, another boarder at the cottage whom he calls the Colonel, and his experiences with his grown daughter, Claire, as she tries to help him find comfort in his retirement.  This novel is all about his recollections of these three periods in his life, as he tries to reconcile himself to the experiences he’s had involving the deaths of those close to him.  It was a moving story, a slow-moving one, but the narration was excellent, as expected, and he really managed to capture the voice of Max during each of these periods in his life fully and convincingly.  I would definitely recommend this as an audiobook selection if you like introspective narratives (and if you like John Lee!).


And I also listened to The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nicole Bernier, narrated by Angela Brazil.  This powerful novel tells the story of two women, friends who are in their late thirties and contemplating their lives thusfar in relation to their children, their husbands, and their halted careers.  Kate, devoted mother of two, struggles with her choices as she considers her return to work as a pastry chef, feeling that it may be too soon.  Her close friend, Elizabeth, died the previous summer in a plane crash, which occurred shortly before 9/11.  Kate was given responsibility for Elizabeth’s journals, much to Elizabeth’s husband’s dismay; Dave feels they should have been left with the family, but reluctantly passes them into the hands of Kate, locked in an antique trunk.  Kate brings them with her as her family heads off for an extended summer holiday to their favourite beachside cottage in Maine, and she spends her summer reading the journals while tending to her family’s needs.  What she finds during her reading is that Elizabeth was a much more complex woman than she ever realized, leading her to contemplate how much we can ever really know about a person.  Written with sensitivity and consideration, this novel explores the roles and expectations of mothers in today’s society, their struggles to balance motherhood and a career, and to maintain a personal identity without sacrificing the needs of their families.  It looks at how we deal with loss, and poses the question of whether we can create our own destiny or whether we should just let fate take its own course.  It also makes readers consider whether it is ever justifiable to make decisions that are life-changing for you and your family by yourself, whether one person can take that responsibility solely on his or her shoulders.   It was, again, not the type of book I normally read or listen to, being about motherhood and the struggles that women with children face when considering career versus family, but this book was excellent.  It was sensitive and considerate, and the author, who was inspired to write it after losing a friend in the attacks of 9/11, did an outstanding job of exploring the randomness of life, the uncertainty we all face every day, and how the constant worry over the possibility of disaster can be paralyzing.  It was a heart-wrenching and heartfelt exploration of the life of one woman who spent her entire life trying to make up for one mistake, and the guilt she carried with her until her sudden death.  The narration was excellent, really capturing the anxious tone of Kate and conveying her internal struggles and her constant hypersensitivity to things around her, both actual and potential. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys character-driven novels.


WHEW!  I’m all “posted” out!  I was getting the details of these stories confused, as they seemed to have similar themes:  childhood experiences, motherhood, making life-altering choices alone, and introspection.  So I think I should choose for my next book and audiobook something fast-paced and plot-driven, something light for these hot, hazy days as summer winds down.  

Thanks for sticking with this post to the very end - I know it was a long one, and I promise to try to keep the next one short and easy to read!  Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Books and tea on a perfect summer day...

Despite this beautiful, sunny summer morning, I can definitely feel that summer is coming to a close.  There may be something in the air that indicates the passing of the season.  It could also be the changing crops that are available at the Kitchener Market that mark this change, for now peaches are plentiful and pears and apples are beginning to make an appearance.  However you mark this changing season, don’t be too melancholy just yet… there are still many more weeks until the end of summer.


My book club met yesterday to discuss Austin Clarke’s novel, The Question.  This novel opens with a man arriving at a birthday party where he knows no one.  His colleague invited him to this event, but at the last minute had to cancel, encouraging him to attend anyway.  At this party, he meets a woman on the deck, sits beside her and chats, all the while reminiscing about his early childhood spent in Barbados.  He and the woman make small talk; the man considers the setting, the deck, the flowers in the garden, the fruit on offer, the dog that has taken a liking to him, and his current relationship with a Filipino woman, Room, who hates crowds and so did not accompany him to the party, and the afternoon turns into evening.  The next part of the book finds the man married to someone who is not Room, a bizarre relationship in which nothing is certain, and which leads the man, by trashing their apartment, to make a frenzied attempt to escape the situation, or possibly to punish.  I have never read anything by this award-winning Canadian author, but the description on the front flap of the book sounded intriguing, and I figured I couldn’t go wrong with anything by this esteemed author, so I added it to the book club selection list.  If I had read it first, though, I would not have put it on the list.  It was difficult to get into, there seemed to be little, if any, plot, and the main character’s obsession with women’s bodies was borderline offensive.  I found that the second half of the book was easier to read, probably because there was less reminiscing for the man, the writing seemed more straightforward, and there seemed to be more of a “plot” (I use that term loosely).  It was not a very good reading experience for me, and I suspected that my book club members would feel the same.  My suspicions were confirmed when I received an email from one of my members a few days before the meeting, letting me know that she would not be able to make it to the meeting (thankfully not because of the choice of book!) but sending me her thoughts about the book.  She wrote:  “I didn’t enjoy it… I strongly disliked the main character… he’s the kind of guy I’d make sure to avoid at a party!  I got sick of his breast fixation and his sleazy view of women’s bodies…”  At the beginning of our meetings, I always go around the table and have each person tell the group what they thought of the book in general, and then move on to discuss the book in greater detail.  This ensures that everyone gets a chance to participate in the discussion.  The first person to start the discussion yesterday opened with:  “I hated it.”  She hated the characters, found nothing redeeming about them, but admitted to reading the entire book in one afternoon, saying that she couldn’t put it down, that she felt compelled to keep reading because she was waiting for something to happen.  She did comment on the excellent use of language and the stunning imagery, which she felt was the only redeeming thing about the book.  The next person said she had no problem putting it down, and skipped and skimmed until she finally reached the end (the person who sent the email also said she skimmed to the end, hoping it would get better:  “It didn’t”, she decided).  And the last member, who shares one copy of each book with the emailing member, said that the book went back and forth across the street many times over the three weeks they had their shared library copy, so disgusted were they with the characters, yet so determined were they to finish the book because it was “assigned reading”.  Well, I was sure that this would be a short discussion, but it turned out to be a lengthy, lively one, one in which, unbelievably, the first member, who stated that she hated it, said that she was tempted to reread it!  Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:  We all agreed that the first part of the book, which takes place at the party, was exhausting, that it was so tiring to read about the seemingly pointless small talk of the man and the woman he sat beside, and that we were all wishing the man would get off the deck soon and go home!  We discussed the fact that nearly all the characters in the book, particularly the main characters, remained nameless throughout the novel, and yet the minor characters had many names (ie:  Romula Lucena Maria Mandaros, aka Room;  Eireene, aka Reens and Auntie Reens).  We felt that the main character’s position as a judge on the Immigration and Refugee Board, which is such a powerful and prestigious position, was frightening because he was clearly very insecure, doubting his own merits as a black man in a white, Canadian culture, and questioning the legitimacy of his marriage to a white woman, a member of “the Establishment”, while he is really just a poor black boy from the Islands.  We discussed his relationship with his first wife, Room, one that is nurturing, if a bit odd, in relation to his marriage with his second, white wife, in which he is controlled and manipulated and treated like a pet.  In fact, his position is below that of the dog, and he knows it, yet he continues in this relationship, admitting to the reader “I wish I was not the man I am”.  We determined that Room represented the Islands, where he feels safe, while the white wife was Canada, where he struggles to belong yet always feels insecure, where he always was and would always remain an outsider.  We felt that this book offered an interesting insight into Canadian culture from an immigrant perspective.  The main character held a position of such authority, power and prestige, and yet, in his position at home, he is nothing, leading him to feel that he doesn’t really belong anywhere.  We talked about Eireene, and her relationship with the woman and, by default, the man.  One of the members even took the initiative and looked up the lyrics to the song, "Strange Fruit" most famously performed by Billie Holiday, which is mentioned in the book a number of times and which proved to be significant. We talked about so much more during our 90+ minute meeting, but in short, we managed to go from “The question is, What the hell was the point of this book?” to “I think I might have to read it again” (several members now want to read something else by this author - I will lend them my as-yet unread copy of  The Polished Hoe).  That, I believe, is the sign of a good discussion.  


And yesterday I finished reading the latest book by another Canadian author, Linden MacIntyre, called Punishment.  This excellent tells the story of one man’s struggle to do the right thing, when “the right thing” is anything but clear, in the face of moral, emotional, personal and legal adversity.  Forced to take early retirement from his position as a Corrections Officer at Kingston Penitentiary and facing a separation from his estranged wife Anna, Tony Breau/MacMillan returns to his hometown in Newfoundland to lick his wounds and hopefully find some peace in his life.  When Dwayne Strickland is arrested for his involvement in the death of a young girl from the village, Tony is called in to help.  He has had past involvement with Strickland when he was incarcerated in Millhaven and Kingston Pen while Tony was still working in Corrections.  Although he doesn’t really know him, Strickland being so much younger, he is pressured to talk with Dwayne, despite his wish to keep a low profile and move on with forging a new life.  With pressure from all sides weighing heavily on him and against his better judgment, Tony is sucked into the vortex of the events as they are happening, and begins to question his own guilt as he struggles to find a way to atone for his actions.  This is a crime novel, a page-turner that will keep you reading late into the night as the conflicts, manipulations and betrayals become more complex and widespread.  It is a study in guilt, and questions the choices we make when there is no clear right and wrong and we are left wandering in a gray area, trying to determine what action to take that will correct the wrongs while also hurting the least number of innocent (or nearly innocent) people. It is also an exploration into the many forms punishment may take, who is punished and how. Like Clarke, MacIntyre, too, has an amazing skill with use of language. I have a quotation that I want to share with you: "It is in the fertile gap between how things are and how things might have been that sorrow blooms".  It was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. Although it is a “crime story”, it reminded me of one of his earlier books, The Bishop’s Man, about a priest in Newfoundland who may or may not be involved in the coverup of the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests. It also reminded me of John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness, which has a similar theme but which focuses on Irish priests.  I would definitely recommend any of these novels to readers who enjoy character-driven books and explorations into morality, guilt and making choices in difficult situations.


Whew!  It’s been a busy reading week!  I’m not sure what to read next, as I look at my nearly toppling pile of possible reads, both library books and books for review.  I think I will leave that decision-making until this evening, and get outside to enjoy a gorgeous day!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Tea and books on a long weekend...

On this warm summer morning, as I drink my steaming cup of chai tea, I am thinking about what I’ve been reading, and why reading is such a great thing to do during the "dog days" of summer.  It takes so little effort, and yet you can get so much enjoyment from it.  And you can justify sitting relatively still for long periods of time because you’re reading!  Books are portable and don’t depend on proximity to an electrical outlet, so you can read in the hammock, on the beach, beside the pool, or under a shady tree.  So if you haven’t read a book yet this summer, this long weekend is a good time to start!


I was fortunate to get an advanced reading copy of Michael Robotham’s newest book, Close Your Eyes, and read it in three days.  After living alone for six years, clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin is invited to spend the summer at the cottage with his estranged wife Julianne and their two daughters, Charlie and Emma.  Determined not to jeopardize this opportunity to win back his wife, he is nevertheless drawn into yet another murder investigation, that of a mother and her teenaged daughter, at their farmhouse in nearby Clevedon.  One of Joe’s former students, a psychologist calling himself the “Mindhunter”, was involved in the initial investigation, and leaked vital information to the media, thereby compromising the case, so Joe reluctantly steps in to help repair the damage and solve the case.  With the investigation dragging on, police, family and community members become more and more frustrated as the case reaches a standstill, with plenty of suspects, motives and opportunities, but no new evidence.  Joe calls in his friend, retired detective VIncent Ruiz, to help out, and together they explore a string of recent attacks on the footpaths in and around Clevedon to determine if the attacks and the murders are linked.  What they discover leads to a frantic race to apprehend the killer before more lives are lost, but what he realizes is that not everyone can be saved.  I have been reading Robotham’s books for a long time, ever since I discovered his first thriller, The Suspect, years ago, and I love his books for a number of reasons.  The plots are are always complex yet believable.  The characters, even the minor ones, are fully developed, and the way they interact is realistic.  And the exploration into the psychological history and development of the perpetrator, why he or she got to be so messed up, is fascinating in a creepy way that makes me cringe even as I read on, unable to put the book down.  And there is something comforting about reading the next book in a series, as it gives the reader a chance to “catch up” with what has been going on in the lives of the characters since the last book.  I was happy to read that Julianne asked Joe to move back in for the summer, and was hoping he wouldn’t screw up his chances, but I also suspected that she had an ulterior motive, that there was something she wasn’t telling him.  I wanted him to work on his relationship with Charlie and to get closer to Emma while he still had the chance.  But I also wanted him to move on with his life, to end their relationship and find someone new if Julianne was messing with him again.  So I guess I was emotionally engaged with the main characters while also caught up in the murder investigation, which made the book even more interesting than perhaps it might be for a first-time Robotham reader.  But I think it would still be a good one to start with if you haven’t read anything else by this author, and I bet if you read it, you will want to go back and read his previous books, too. Note: this book is not due to be released in Canada until September, but you may already be able to put the title on hold at your local library.


That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the long weekend, and keep reading!

Bye for now…
Julie