Sunday 29 May 2016

Post on a hot summer-like morning...

I’m sitting in my reading chair with a cup of tea and a bowl of fresh strawberries (not local, unfortunately, as it hasn’t been quite warm enough for long enough), feeling the drain of the heat already - I’m not a summer person, and already the warm weather is affecting my energy level.  So I can’t guarantee a post that meets my usual upbeat standard - I know you will forgive me!

I read a book last week that was very good, but also very sad.  13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad tells the story of Elizabeth from the age of about 16 to 26, and her experiences as a fat girl.  It begins when she and her fat friend are at a McDonald’s in Misery Saga (aka Mississauga), certain that a couple of guys at the next table are checking them out.  This theme of needing to be seen as desirable by others continues throughout the thirteen tales about Elizabeth/Beth/Liz, as she tries to find happiness and acceptance, and even love, despite her weight.  Even when she finally achieves the thinness she has coveted her whole life, she seems unable to make peace with who she is or find the happiness she longs for. She remarks to a friend early in the novel that she dreams of someday having an eating disorder, which will leave her hungry and angry all the time, but she'll look great! While this seems like the kind of throwaway remark a teen might make, and the reader may be inclined to dismiss it, it really is exactly what she wants, and we are reminded of the caution to be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. These harrowing stories emphasize cultural expectations and societal pressures on women regarding weight.  It was a difficult read, and I wondered if it was true that people really feel this way if they have or perceive themselves to have a weight problem.  It certainly sounded true - Awad’s use of language was both direct and critical, and her portrayal of Elizabeth’s emotional difficulties as a result of these pressures was jarring and yet sensitive.  Awad goes into great detail describing the main character’s relationships with friends, lovers, partners and family members, and the reader is left feeling that she never really connects with anyone because her animosity, bitterness and envy towards anyone who is thinner or seems happier than her always overrides her emotional needs.  It was not an uplifting book, and while there were occasional glimmers of hope, the reader is left with a stark image of a very unhappy person.  Although it seems that the author's intention was to emphasize our cultural obsession with weight, this reader was left thinking that, if only the author would have considered the experiences of the main character into her 30s or 40s, maybe Elizabeth would have finally come to terms with her body and accepted who she is, and finally find happiness… perhaps there will be a sequel?  It was definitely a skilled debut by a very talented new Canadian author.  I would give it an 8 out of 10, but be prepared to be sad and angry throughout most of the book.

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now…

Monday 23 May 2016

Long-ish post on a long weekend...

I’m sipping a cup of surprisingly delicious tea right now, not my usual steeped chai tea but a combination of one regular orange pekoe teabag and one masala chai teabag - too lazy to make the steeped stuff this morning, and this is a good substitute, tasty and double-strong!  I’m also enjoying a treat from City Cafe, a yummy date bar - mmm!!!  What better way to enjoy this holiday in honour of Queen Victoria than with a cup of tea!

I have a book and an audiobook I want to tell you about today.  The book I read is What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman.  This is a reread, and it’s a bit of an indulgence for me, as it’s not overly well-written, but it’s a twisty, turny rollercoaster ride through the past 30 years of a woman who claims to be one of the two sisters who were believed to have been abducted from a mall in Baltimore one Saturday afternoon in 1975.  The novel opens with a woman’s confused ramblings as she is driving down the highway.  Her confusion leads to an accident and she is taken to hospital where, having no ID with her, she reveals under questioning that she is one of the Bethany sisters, the younger sister Heather, then refuses to say anything more.  Enter Kevin Infante, a chauvinistic detective who becomes more and more frustrated as he struggles to come up with any leads that might help crack this case.  He consults his former partner, Nancy Porter, who after maternity leave, has joined the Cold Case squad, and together they try to get this woman to open up to them, to give them something, anything, that they can work with.  Unfortunately, all she seems to tell them are vague stories that include details that shift and change according to the situation.  There is also a social worker, Kay Somerville, who becomes involved in Heather’s case, and she approaches her lawyer friend Gloria Bustamante to take on this case and help this woman out.  There are multiple stories intertwined, as lengthy flashbacks fill in the details of the day of the crime, as well as what happened in the intervening years for both of the parents while their daughters were still missing and presumed dead.  It was very confusing, but it’s the kind of book I love to read every once in  awhile, a bit of a “trashy novel” filled with secrets and lies and mystery (I mean "trashy" in the best sense of the word, as in plot-driven as opposed to language- or character-driven).  I didn’t really remember exactly how it ended, but I had some idea, so I could pay attention to the minutiae of the story with that in mind and appreciate the complicated story Lippman created rather than just feeling lost and confused.  All in all, it was a good read, and a change from some of the more literary stuff I usually choose.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about family secrets and doesn’t mind multiple stories and many flashbacks. As an aside, I loved this part near the beginning of the book, when we meet Kay for the first time. She is talking about books, and how she prefers reading to engaging with others. She joined a book group to give her a cover and validate her frequent choices of reading over talking. But she says she doesn't really like being in a book group, because "talking about the characters in a book she had enjoyed felt like gossiping about friends". I can relate to that!

And speaking of multiple stories that are confusing, I just finished listening to A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George.  This is the latest in the “Inspector Lynley” series, and it was certainly long and confusing!  Since I last listened to one of her books, This Body of Death, it appears that Barbara Havers, Lynley’s partner-in-crime, has gone off on her own to pursue leads in a case without authorization, landing her in the doghouse with her Superintendent, Isabelle Ardery, and her every action is being watched and monitored while Isabelle waits for just that one misstep that will lead to Havers’ transfer to Berwick upon Tweed.  The novel begins with a troubled young man, Will Goldacre, trying to salvage his relationship with his girlfriend Lilly, while also placating his overbearing mother, Caroline, and not doing a very good job of either.  When Lilly discovers something and Will jumps to his death, his mother is inconsolable.  Flash forward two years, and Caroline has found employment as an assistant to Clare Abbott, a popular feminist and author of Looking for Mr Darcy, the only thing that gives her life purpose besides her other son, Charlie.  Still grieving over Will’s death, she is devastated to discover Clare’s body in her hotel room one morning while they are on a book tour in Cambridge.  It is ruled as natural causes, a heart attack, but Clare’s publisher, Rory, is sure that it was murder.  Having met Barbara at a previous book signing in London, she enlists her help in finding out the truth, but Barbara has to fight tooth and nail to get the others on her team on board, particularly Isabelle.  Lynley does what he can to help, and the results of a second autopsy reveal that Clare was, in fact, murdered, poisoned with a drug that would cause heart failure.  When a second attack takes place, Lynley, Havers and Winston Nkata must dig deep to uncover the truths underlying these dysfunctional relationships and find the killer before time runs out and Isabelle pulls the plug on the whole investigation, handing it over to the Cambridge police.  And since the last book I read, Lynley has become involved with a veterinarian who works at the London Zoo, Dierdre, whom he met during a previous case.  Will she commit, or is Lynley wasting his time?  I thought this book was a bit over-long, but because it was an audiobook, I couldn’t skim or skip ahead, as I would probably have done if I’d been reading it.  It was still a great listening experience, and I always enjoy listening to John Lee narrate.  This book detailed the shenanigans of one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve ever come across in literature (and that’s certainly saying something, because I love books about dysfunctional families - hmmm… what does that say about me?!).  I would only recommend this to fans of previous books in this series, even if you’ve missed a few here and there (this is, after all, the 19th book in the series).  I am interested in reading or listening to Believing the Lie and Just One Evil Act, the two novels that preceed this.  I have other older titles still to read, too, but if I read these, I’ll feel like I’ve taken up the series again after Helen’s death.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10 - her novels are always ambitious undertakings, but this one seemed even more so than usual.

That’s all for today.  Happy Victoria Day!  

Bye for now…

Monday 16 May 2016


Just a short note to let you know my thoughts about Black Apple, now that I've finished it.  It was so much more than just a look at residential schools.  The main character was also sensitive to spirits of dead people in the school dormitory and grounds, those belonging to the dead of the past, students, priests and nuns who would not rest easy.  But what I got from it, as I reached the last page, was that it was ultimately a book about a young woman learning to make her own choices and standing up for what she wants rather than being led along in life by the decisions of others.  It was a really interesting read, although the writing was somewhat uneven at times, so I would give it a 7.5 out of 10.

And I wanted to tell you about a sweet treat I had recently.  At an event I attended on the weekend, I got a box of treats and inside the box was a small container of what I at first thought to be small jelly beans.  It turns out that these were Jelly Bellies, which a woman beside me went on about as being so wonderful, with each bean being a different flavour.  This reminded me of the beans in the Harry Potter books, the "every-flavour beans", although these ones didn't have nasty flavours like vomit or earwax (warning:  I just saw on the Jelly Bellies website that they are starting to introduce the grosser flavours, too, like spoilt milk and dead fish - yuck!)

Have a good night!

Sunday 15 May 2016

Unfinished book on a chilly Spring morning...

It’s a chilly morning in May as I sit down to write this blog post.  I was cooking this morning and looked out my kitchen window to see what looked like apple blossom petals drifting down from the sky.  Against the sunny backdrop, I thought it was a case of strong winds blowing the petals from my neighbour’s apple tree down to my backyard, but as I checked out the front window, I found it was happening everywhere - it was the most beautiful brief snowfall I’ve ever seen!  It lasted about 3 minutes, then ended.  Right now it looks like overcast skies and sleet - who knows what will be next!

I’ve not quite finished the book Black Apple by Canadian author Joan Crate.  This recent publication is set in a residential school in Alberta during and after World War II and tells the story of Sinopaki Whitewater, renamed Rose Marie, a young girl who is taken from her home and family at the age of seven and brought to St Mark’s Residential School for Girls, run by the Sisters of Brotherly Love.  The nun in charge of running the school, Mother Grace, has her doubts about the value of these schools, and her own faith in and commitment to God.  She questions some of the events and actions that took place before Rose Marie arrived, but which taints the true mission of the schools, to rescue these Indian children from their heathen family ways and educate them in a Godly setting.  Of course, we all know what really happened in residential schools, and I was afraid this book would dwell too much on the horrors that took place at that terrible period in our country’s history, but so far it is surprisingly tame, while still managing to have a strong message.  It certainly isn’t glossing over the terrible acts and conditions inflicted on those poor children; rather, the author seems to manage to convey this truth while still demonstrating that something of value may have been brought forth and that someone in charge may have cared enough and questioned enough to make a difference.  I’ve still got a third of the book to read, and it was due back at the library yesterday.  I tried to renew it but it was on hold for someone else, so it’s accruing late charges even as we speak - I hope to finish it today.  It’s very good so far, and I would definitely recommend it to any reader who enjoys reading novels that explore the darker side of Canadian history.  I’ll give a rating once I finish it.

That’s all for today.  

Bye for now…

Saturday 7 May 2016

Big little lies...

OK, I know I said that I wasn’t going to write a post this week, but that turned out to be untrue… we had such a lively discussion about the book this morning that I had to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.  We discussed Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, a writer who certainly knows how to tackle big, serious subjects in a lighthearted, palatable, often even funny way.  “How is that possible?”, you may well ask, and I can’t tell you the method, but Moriarty manages to achieve it with finesse.  In this novel, she tackles issues such as bullying, gossip, sexual assault and domestic violence that is sure to have you laughing out loud even as you are shaking your head in horror and disgust at what has just taken place on the page.  It follows the events leading up to the infamous Trivia Night fundraiser at Pirriwee Elementary School and three very different women whose lives become intertwined as they find their way through domestic challenges of varying sizes and severity.  Madeline is a mother of three, whose youngest, Chloe, is starting kindergarten, and whose oldest, at fourteen, is struggling to determine a course for herself as she emerges from under her mother’s wing.  Madeline is loud and forthright and confident, and she loves to shop.  Within the first few pages, Madeline meets Jane, a young woman who is new to the area and who, it turns out, has a son, Ziggy, who will be starting school in the same class as Chloe.  Madeline introduces Jane to Celeste, a stunningly beautiful woman who, for some reason, always seems somewhat distanced from reality.  Her twin boys, too, are in the same kindergarten class, and Celeste and Madeline welcome Jane into their circle and they become fast friends.  These women face the other kindy mothers as they make their way way through the politics of school parents.  When Ziggy is accused of bullying another student on orientation day, Jane questions her decision to move to the area, and whether she can ever fit in with these beautiful, confident people.  The relationships between these women and their spouses, as well as with the other parents and members of the community is relayed to the reader, and we are sucked into the drama of everyday life in Pirriwee.  Underlying all of this, the thing that drives the novel, is the mystery surrounding the death of someone within this community, as commented upon by minor characters at regular intervals throughout the story.  I don’t want to give any more away, because the building of suspense and the discoveries the reader makes along the way about each character is so important to the book that it would be totally wrong of me to spoil it for anyone who has not read it.  I’ve read it before, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did the first time, maybe even more because I had vague recollections of the ending so I could appreciate what was happening throughout the book more with that in mind.  It was a full turnout this morning, and all of my ladies loved it!  One women said it reminded her of the TV show “Desperate Housewives”, and the others agreed.  Another said that the quotes from the minor characters made her crazy at the beginning, but once she reached the end, they all made sense and she even went back and reread them.  She felt their purpose was to create suspense, and this technique really worked.  Another member talked about the significance of the characters’ names:  Mrs Ponder liked to ponder, Jane was Plain Jane, Renata was like royalty, Celeste was heavenly, Madeline was a bit “mad”, Bonnie was a “bonny lass”, and Harper was a harpy.  We all agreed that Madeline was the most “real” character, that she was both entertaining and realistic, that she was open and communicative, and that she was a good mother.  And we all thought her husband, Ed, was awesome, perfectly suited to complement her personality. We talked about the differences in parenting techniques these days from past generations, and how these changes are reflected in the expectations children have now, the ways they do or don’t connect with peers and family members, and the effects technological changes have had on children of today.  We wondered how Moriarty could keep all the characters and storylines straight. I remember wondering, while reading, how she could even think this stuff up and get it to work so well together!  I couldn’t name a single thing about this book to find fault with, and, as I told my group this morning, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this book an 11.  There was so much more, but these are just the highlights.  Someone mentioned that they heard this book was going to be made into a miniseries, with Nicole Kidman playing Celeste - I would love to see that.  I rarely quote sections from books in my posts, but I want to end with this passage that occurs near the end of the book, which I feel sums it up pretty well:  “It occurred to (Madeline) that there were so many levels of evil in the world.  Small evils like her own malicious words.  Like not inviting a child to a party.  Bigger evils like walking out on your wife and newborn baby or sleeping with your child’s nanny.  And then there was the sort of evil of which Madeline had no experience:  cruelty in hotel rooms and violence in suburban homes and little girls being sold like merchandise, shattering innocent hearts”.  

Wow, I just realized that this was a book about motherhood, perfect timing for Mother’s Day!  I hope you have a good weekend, and take the opportunity to do something special for your mom or some other significant woman in your life.

Bye for now…

Friday 6 May 2016

Mother's Day weekend post...

Because it's Mother's Day on Sunday and we have a family event happening, and I have a book club meeting tomorrow morning, and I had to work late many nights this week because I hosted a Scholastic Book Fair at one of my schools, I will not be writing a post this weekend.  I may have to do double duty next time, though, as I've got a book club meeting tomorrow morning and another meeting with a different group on Monday!  So many book clubs, so many books... and so little time to write about them!

Have a Happy Mother's Day, and enjoy the wonderful warm weather!

Bye for now...

Sunday 1 May 2016

Tea and books on a rainy Sunday morning...

I’ve got a cup of delicious Chai tea in front of me, and I’m wishing I’d thought to buy a treat from the market yesterday to have with it, but alas, it’s just my tea mug, sitting alone on the coffee table.  Good thing it has a wonderful book nearby to keep it from getting lonely!

I read a book last week that we are going to be discussing at my Friends’ book club meeting on May 9th, Defending Jacob by William Landay.  I had to read it so early because my Volunteer book club is meeting on May 7th to discuss Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and I wanted to read that one this week.  Both are fairly lengthy books, and although very different types of novels, both are wonderful reads in my opinion.  I listened to Defending Jacob as an audiobook in July 2012 and was very impressed with it, so when a member of my Friends book club suggested it, I readily agreed.  Told mainly from the point of view of Andy Barber, an Assistant District Attorney in an upscale town just outside of Boston, this novel begins with the investigation into the brutal murder of a fourteen-year-old boy in the wooded area of the park just beyond the elementary school.  Ben Rifkin, a handsome, popular eighth-grade student, is discovered one morning by a jogger - he had been stabbed multiple times and left to die just off one of the many pathways as he was walking to school.  The police call in one of their most senior detectives, Paul Duffy, to lead the investigation. Duffy, working alongside Barber, faces numerous obstacles, including trying to interview fellow classmates, and comes up with no clear suspects.  They finally set their sights on Leonard Patz, a known paedophile who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the murder.  When one of Ben’s classmates suggests that Barber’s son, fourteen-year-old Jacob, had a knife which he brought to school and which he threatened to use if Ben continued to bully him, Barber chooses to turn a blind eye and focus instead on Patz, despite lack of evidence and witness reports.  When Jacob is finally charged with the murder and Barber is taken off the case, he pairs up with the defense attorney to help save Jacob from being found guilty, a verdict that he feels may result even though he claims to believe that his son is innocent.  Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that Andy’s father, Bloody Billy Barber, has been incarcerated for decades for the murder of a young girl.  Does murder run in the Barber family? Using several plot twists, this novel arrives at an astonishing ending that shocked this reader, despite having vague recollections of it from my previous listening experience.  I certainly didn’t remember the details, so it was still quite surprising.  I’ll admit that some of the details in the book were contrived, and Barber’s refusal to see the truth, his insistence on burying his head in the sand, was somewhat frustrating, but not so much as to detract from the overall readability of this book.  I found it unputdownable, the type of legal thriller page-turner I so enjoy indulging in, and which I can’t find often enough.  Many legal thrillers are too flashy, with main characters who are larger-than-life (and not in the good way!), or crimes that are so convoluted as to make them totally unbelievable.  In this novel I felt that, while every detail may not pass the “credibility test”, in general, most of the story and the characters were fairly believable, at least to me.  It was so much more than just a legal thriller; it was also an exploration into the lengths a parent will go to protect his or her child.  It was like We Need to Talk about Kevin “light”, with Andy being the opposite of Eva in that he doesn’t believe his son capable of this heinous crime, while Eva believes her son could do all of that and more!  I’m sure we’ll have a lively discussion about this book in a week’s time, but for now, I would rate it an 8.5/10.  As I was reading it, I was thinking that it would make a great movie, and in fact it is, according to the Internet Movie Database, “in production” - I would definitely see this movie!

That’s all for today.  I think the weather is calling for lots of rain, which to me translates into lots of reading time!

Bye for now…