Sunday 27 August 2017

Last post for August...

I’m sitting here drinking my steeped chai tea and nibbling on a slice of freshly baked Date Bread and thinking about the end of summer vacation.  I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine, but it would be nice to have just a little bit more time... (I just got a stack of holds from the library yesterday, and I know that I won't have time to read them all… *sigh*)

I did manage to finish one book last week and nearly finish another… WOO HOO!  The first is by Robert Rotenberg, Heart of the City, which just came out a few weeks ago.  Ari Greene is back from England along with a surprise, a daughter he never knew he had.  Determined to leave behind his past as a homicide detective, along with the false accusation of murder he recently faced, he takes a job at a construction site working for an old friend who is the foreman.  The site is for the construction of a condo, the first of two planned to be built in eclectic Kensington Market, a plan that has incited controversy from those who want to keep the area, the “heart of the city”, from becoming gentrified.  After work one Friday, Ari goes into the back shed that serves as the office for the "Condo King", Livingston Fox, and discovers Fox’s body - the man has clearly been murdered, but why and by whom?  There are plenty of people who would want to see the reviled downtown developer dead, but do any of them hate him enough to kill him?  Despite his reluctance, Ari is drawn back into the world of criminal investigation as more bodies are discovered, and he and his former friend Detective Daniel Kennicott race to uncover the truth before more people die.  This latest in Rotenberg’s “Toronto” series (that’s what I call them, since the city of Toronto is a character in itself in these books) was a satisfying crime novel, a thriller that was at once a page-turner and a look at the way people think and adapt as situations in their lives change.  That is the wonderful thing about his books - they manage to be both “Canadian Tire” books (fast-paced and plot-driven) as well as “Lee Valley” ones (thought-provoking and language- or character-driven), and this one does this to a T.  I was just recommending these books to a friend yesterday who enjoys John Grisham's novels (the blurb on the cover of Heart of the City from the Telegraph-Journal says “Rotenberg is Canada’s John Grisham”), but I told him to start with Old City Hall, his first book and the one in which the reader is introduced to all the characters.  

And I’m planning to finish another book today, The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius.  This novel is also a thriller, but very different from Rotenberg’s book.  As you might guess from the title, it is a cyber-thriller that takes the reader from America to China to Mexico in search of the secret to building a super-fast quantum computer.  China and the U.S. are adversaries in their race to build a such a computer, but the secret of sustaining the stability of qubits for more than a few seconds eludes every engineer and technological scientist around the world.  When a break-through in the U.S. is thought to be on the horizon, the CIA tries to infiltrate China’s Ministry of State Security and uncover the identity of the “mole”, known as Rukou or “the Doorway”, that has been leaking high-level information about this project to Chinese government officials.  But can they figure out the identity and apprehend the traitor before the Chinese government gets the information they want?  This is definitely a “Canadian Tire” book, fast-paced and plot-driven, but one that requires this reader to read rather slowly and give consideration to every page, as I don’t really understand all the scientific parts about quantum computing (I must be learning something, though, as I was able to use the word "qubits" correctly in a sentence - see above!!).  I received an Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher, and it is expected to be available in November, so if this book sounds interesting to you, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait awhile.

That’s all for today.  Happy “last week of August”!

Bye for now…

Sunday 20 August 2017

Short post on a bittersweet morning...

As I sit here this Sunday morning, sipping my steeped chai tea and nibbling on a delicious Date Bar, I’m savouring my last “free” weekend before I return to work.  I still have one more week off and no firm plans, so it’s a bittersweet time - I’m both ready to go back to work and also thinking of all the projects I still want to tackle. *sigh*

Although I was planning to have a reading marathon last week, my husband was off for the first three days of the week, so I didn’t get much reading done at all.  I did find time to read a delightful children’s novel, Everything on a Waffle, by Canadian author Polly Horvath.  Primrose Squarp is an eleven-year-old girl with hair the colour of carrots in glazed apricot sauce, fair skin where it isn’t freckled, and eyes like summer storms.  When her father’s fishing boat doesn’t return during a storm one day, her mother goes out on her own to try to find him, and they are both lost at sea.  What follows are the adventures Primrose has living in her community somewhere on Vancouver Island as she moves from one living arrangement to another, trying to find a place to call home, yet never giving up her firm belief that her parents are still alive.  Along the way, she finds refuge from her loneliness in the form of Miss Bowzer, the owner of The Girl on the Red Swing restaurant in town, where everything is served on a waffle, even steak!  This funny, bittersweet novel, with its sharp, sassy, shoot-from-the-hip heroine, is sure to keep any reader cheering for her to the very last page.  And, if you enjoy cooking, you can try some of the recipes that appear at the end of each chapter!

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

Bye for now… Julie

Friday 11 August 2017

Second post this week...

WOW, two posts in one week - it must still be summer vacation!  I have two week left until I go back to work, so I’m planning a reading marathon in an attempt to get through the several stacks of books I had set aside to read this summer.  

I’ve made some headway this week as I finished two books that I want to tell you about, both by Canadian authors.  The first is an adult novel, After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara.  Rita is a single mother who is struggling to come to terms with her recent divorce and questioning her abilities to be a good parent to her six-year-old daughter Kristen as she copes with her move from a large house in Willowdale to a small apartment in downtown Toronto.  Her husband has moved to Vancouver and their daughter is with him for the summer, so Rita is left alone to deal with her unstable life on her own.  As an art teacher, she has the summer off, giving her plenty of time to dwell on her unsatisfactory life, both past and present.  To complicate matters, she gets a phone call from her mother’s new husband Gerald, letting her know that her mother, Lily, has gone missing.  The police are called, but they can’t do much when there are no signs of violence or abduction, when it appears that an adult has just walked away from her life.  Rita has no idea where Lily could have gone, but she is frightfully worried, as Lily is not the most mentally stable person - all her life there have been blank moments, forgetfulness and wandering, and she’s always come back, but she’s never stayed away this long.  Rita tries to help Gerald find Lily, but she knows so little about her mother’s past, particularly her time in a Japanese internment camp in California, that she doesn't know where to begin.  Rita also knows little about her own father, whom Lily claims abandoned the family after Rita was born.  By piecing clues together and enlisting the help of Mark Edo, a fellow Japanese Canadian and professor at University of Toronto, Rita goes on a search that will uncover her family’s hidden past and help her to come to terms with who she really is.  Told from the points of view of both Rita and Lily, we as readers are given inside information about Lily’s past and her experiences in the camp, information that Rita is denied again and again, and she must be resourceful and determined in order to uncover the truth about her past and her family.  This is Shimotakahara’s first novel, and it was definitely an interesting story, one that needs to be told.  I had a hard time identifying with either main character, but the story moved along at a good pace and kept me turning pages to find out where Lily has gone and why.  Anyone who likes reading domestic fiction or is interested in the Japanese-Canadian experience would probably enjoy this novel.

And I received an advanced reading copy of a children's novel by Canadian author Sonia Tilson, The Disappearing Boy.  This novel is also about family secrets and a quest to find a missing father.  Thirteen-year-old Neil MacLeod has recently moved from Vancouver to Ottawa with his mom, and he is struggling to feel at home in his new school and new environment.  So far he has no friends and he’s finding the weather challenging to deal with, being so different from what he was used to on the West Coast.  When his mother tells him that he has a grandmother living nearby, he is shocked; his mother has never mentioned any other relatives.  The relative he most desperately wants to know about is his father, but his mother keeps saying that she’ll tell him “soon” and he is tired of hearing that word.  His grandmother, Margaret, is a bit more forthcoming, but determines that it is his mother who should really be the one to give him that information.  He befriends Courtenay, Margaret’s neighbour, a girl whose parents are indifferent to their daughter’s well-being, and his life seems to be getting better, but after his mother puts off his demand for answers about his father one too many times, Neil storms out and heads to Margaret’s place, where, while snooping around, he uncovers a truth more shocking than he could have ever believed.  He decides to run away to his grandfather’s horse farm outside of St John, New Brunswick, an escape that gives him the chance to view his life from a distance and really learn what it means to be a family.  This heartwarming book puts into perspective what many children are facing these days in terms of struggles with sexual identity, for themselves and those around them, and approaches a difficult topic both realistically and with compassion.  I really enjoyed this book, and read it last night in one sitting.  It is recommend for kids ages 8-12, but due to the mature content, I think it’s more suitable for ages 11-13.  It is due out in October.

That’s all for this week.  Have a great weekend and remember to read!

Bye for now…

Monday 7 August 2017

Short post on a long weekend...

It’s a cool, overcast Monday morning on this long weekend that has so far been great in terms of weather, not too hot, not too sunny, allowing for plenty of comfortable outdoor activity. We’re supposed to be getting some rain this afternoon, but I think the lawns and gardens need it, so we can’t really complain.  And I certainly can’t complain, as I sip my delicious steeped chai tea, nibble on a yummy Date Bar from City Cafe and listen to classical music courtesy of CBC Radio Two while I write this post.

On Friday my volunteer book club met to discuss The Rosie Project.  This bestselling debut novel by Australian author Graeme Simsion tells the story of Don Tillman, a 39-year-old associate professor at a university in Melbourne who has decided he wants to get married.  The problem is that he doesn’t have a girlfriend and has serious problems interacting with individuals in social situations (he may be on the Autism Spectrum - while it is never clearly stated, it is strongly implied).  How, then, is he to meet the prefect woman?  His brilliant idea is to design a questionnaire and make it available online and in paper format, which is a major component in what he refers to as “The Wife Project”.  Thankfully he has two good friends to help him out with this massive undertaking, fellow professor Gene and his psychologist wife Claudia.  After a few false starts, Don asks Gene to select some good candidates from the questionnaire responses, thus bringing Rosie into Don’s life.  She is a most unsuitable candidate, being nearly 10 years younger than Don, a barmaid who is spontaneous and is never on time.  Nonetheless, they form an unlikely friendship, and over time, Don must admit that times spent with Rosie are very nearly the best times of his life.  But can Don make the emotional commitment that Rosie needs and help her overcome her own personal difficulties in order to move into a relationship?  This book was recommended by one of my book club ladies, and it’s always a good idea to put something light and/or short on the list for the summer, so here it is.  I had a full turnout and everyone loved this book.  Here are the highlights of our discussion.  One member said she really enjoyed reading it, and that she liked all the characters.  She felt that Don was so genuine and loyal, and he tried so hard.  They thought Rosie was also very likable, that she was “resourceful, witty and kind”, and that she was able to see beyond Don’s inflexibility and help him to relax some of his rigid habits in order to better fit into regular society and also to increase his experiences and enjoyment in life.  They felt that their significant age difference did not hinder their relationship, as, intellectually, they were well-matched (no spoilers here - you’ll have to read the book to find out how this is so!).  They particularly enjoyed reading about the Cocktail Scene, and felt that New York was a good fit for Don because everyone there is a bit different. And finally, they felt that Don’s friendship had a positive effect on Gene and Claudia as individuals and also  on their relationship. It was definitely a good book club choice, and while I didn’t personally enjoy the book, clearly I’m in the minority, so I would recommend reading it, particularly if you are the type who likes to read the book before you see the film (which is “in development” according to the Internet Movie Database).

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

Bye for now…