Sunday 25 February 2018

Keeping up with the Joneses on a mild Spring-like morning...

It’s sunny and mild right now, a perfect morning to hang laundry out on the clothesline and go for a long walk, both things I’m going to do after writing this post.  But for now, I’m enjoying my steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar from City Café - yummy!!
Last weekend I needed to find a book to read and an audiobook to listen to, and I chose one of each without knowing much about either one.  What are the chances that I would choose a book and an audiobook on the same day that each had a main character named Jones (first name, that is)?  So even though I wasn’t sure how much I was enjoying either one, I felt destined to stick with them.  I just finished the book, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (you may be familiar with this author’s name associated with his most popular novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, told from the point of view of a dog).  I’m not quite sure why I had A Sudden Light on my shelf, but I picked it out along with a pile of other books I know nothing about.  I decided that I needed to weed out some books, so I read the first few pages of each and either kept it or brought it to the Little Free Library that is at the end of my street.  This one I stuck with, and finished reading last night.  It is told from the point of view of Trevor, an adult looking back on the summer he was fourteen, when his father took him to his Grandpa Samuel’s estate just outside of Seattle, an estate that seemed to be suspended in time, having never moved beyond the night Samuel’s wife, Isobel, passed away, leaving their son Jones and daughter Serena motherless and in the care of Samuel.  But sixteen-year-old Jones is sent away to school shortly thereafter, leaving eleven-year-old Serena to care for drunken Samuel, causing her to feel trapped and embittered.  Nearly twenty-five years later, she wants to sell the North Estate, a crumbling mansion surrounded by 200 acres of pristine forest, and develop it into 20 lots of 10 acres each for the newly-rich to build their McMansions on, making her rich and allowing her to travel the world.  But Jones’ ancestors, in particular his great-grand-uncle Ben, had other ideas:  they wanted to return the estate to its natural state and preserve it, a repayment for the rape and pillage of so much land, as well as the exploitation of the men they employed, that made the family rich in the timber industry in the early 1900s.  Grandpa Samuel is suffering dementia, and Serena needs him to sign over power of attorney, which is where Jones comes in.  Jones and his wife Rachel are experiencing marital problems after their personal bankruptcy, and are in the midst of a trial separation, and all Trevor wants is for them to get back together and be happy again.  He believes that money is the solution, but can money truly buy happiness?  Through letters and diary entries, Trevor pieces together the intentions of his ancestors, and must struggle to reconcile his desire to stay true to his dead family's wishes and his need to try to bring his living family back together. This sprawling, multigenerational story exploring the consequences of wealth and greed and the search for redemption, with a supernatural twist, is totally not my type of book, but it had me hooked!  Stein’s exploration into the motivations of Trevor, Serena, and to some extent Jones, was riveting, and this book reminded me in some ways of The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche, also about a wealthy, powerful American family with dark secrets, although Marche’s book was more literary, more of a “Lee Valley” book, than Stein’s “Canadian Tire” bestseller.  Still, it was an enjoyable read, and while I felt it dragged a bit, I still wanted to find opportunities to read and get to the end to find out how things are resolved.  There were also times, particularly in the first half of the book, when it reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, probably because both books involved a father and son on a quest to discover the true meaning of value and integrity. I would definitely recommend this book to just about anyone, as it defies categorization:  it’s part historical fiction, part ghost story, part domestic fiction, part psychological fiction, and so much more.  I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it.  
That’s all for today.  Oh, the audiobook with the character named Jones is Darkness, my old friend by Lisa Unger.  I’m still listening to it, and will write about it when I’m done.  Get outside and enjoy the day!
Bye for now…

Sunday 18 February 2018

Books, audiobooks and tea on a long weekend...

It’s the Family Day weekend here in Ontario, which means an extra day of sleeping late, puttering around the house, getting a few things done outside, and of course reading and drinking hot beverages!  

I’ve been sick for much of the past week, which didn’t actually provide me with as much extra reading time as you might think, but I did manage to finish a good mystery by an Irish author, The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard.  This was a freebee from the library conference I was at recently, and it was totally riveting!  Alison is a 29-year-old woman living in the Netherlands who gets a visit from the Gardai (the Irish police) asking her to return to Dublin - her former boyfriend from her university days, Will Hurley, a convicted serial killer, wants to speak with her about the recent murders of two girls in Dublin.  She heads back with them reluctantly, the first time she’s been back in ten years, and is certain that Will has no useful information about these recent murders.  But why does he suddenly want to talk, after all these years?  And why to her?  Ten years earlier, five female students from St John’s College in Dublin sustained head injuries and were thrown into the canal to drown, and police were searching for the Canal Killer until they stumbled upon fellow student Will, who, after hours of interrogation, confessed and was sent to a psychiatric institute, where he languished for years.  Now the killings have begun again, and he claims to have information that may help catch not a copycat, but the real Canal Killer.  But he will only speak to his former girlfriend, Alison, determining that she is the only person who may believe his innocence and follow his leads.  Readers are then treated to alternating “Alison, then”, “Alison, now” chapters that piece together the story from ten years earlier, detailing Alison’s relationship with Will and her love/hate relationship with her best friend Liz, the Canal Killer’s fifth victim, and the ongoing search in the present-day.  These are interspersed with chapters from the point of view of the current killer… but is he a copycat, or did he kill those girls ten years earlier, too?  And if so, why did he lie dormant for so many years?  And why would Will confess to murders he didn’t commit?  Filled with twists and turns, this compelling murder mystery had this reader glued to the page as she fought the need for an afternoon nap due to the fatigue of illness.  It is due out this month, so if you enjoy a good murder mystery weaving together past secrets and present-day circumstances, I would highly recommend that you put this item on hold at your local library today!

And I am nearly finished listening to a short audiobook by David Rosenfelt, one of the books in the “Andy Carpenter” series, Bury the Lead.  This novel is narrated by one of my favourite readers, Grover Gardner, the narrator for all of the “Andy Carpenter” books I've listened to so far, and he always does such a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life.  I’d forgotten how much I enjoy listening to these smart, witty, light mysteries.  Andy is drawn into a case involving the murder of three women who have been strangled and had their hands cut off.  The killer communicates with news reporter Daniel Cummings, and at the most recent murder scene, Daniel is wounded and is ultimately charged with the crime.  What follows is the discovery of evidence linking him to the past murders, and Andy is called upon to represent him in court.  The evidence is strong, but only a fool would be so careless as to keep such evidence around, and Daniel is no fool. But how can Andy prove that he is being framed?  And why?  I’m actually just about to find out what the final answer is, but it has been such a thoroughly entertaining listening experience that I’m thinking about downloading other “Andy Carpenter” books, even if I’ve already listened to them, because they are so enjoyable, a guaranteed satisfying listening experience when I don’t know what to listen to next.

That’s all for today.  I feel well enough to get outside and enjoy the sunshine for a bit before the rainy mild weather sets in over the next couple of days.  Enjoy the rest of the long weekend, and don’t forget to keep reading!

Bye for now…

Monday 12 February 2018

Books and tea on a "sick" morning...

I’ve been sick this past weekend, and am home sick again today, so this may be a brief post.  I’ve got hot tea and warm flat gingerale in front of me as I think about the books I’ve read recently.

Last week I read a book that I picked up from the big library conference I was at just over a week ago, The French Girl by Lexie Elliott.  On the cover of this book, which features a shadowy night-time scene by a pool, is the tagline “We all have our secrets”.  Kate Channing is struggling to keep her legal headhunting business solvent.  In her early thirties, she knows that working in a law office is not for her (been there, done that), and she doesn’t know what other options she has.  Then she lands a contract with a big law firm, and things are looking up… until her past comes to haunt her.  A decade earlier, Kate and five friends spent a week at a French farmhouse and encountered the neighbour girl, lithe, tanned, languid Severine, who disappeared on the last day of their vacation.  Now Severine’s body had been discovered in the well behind the farmhouse, and everyone is a suspect.  As the six friends get together and try to piece together the puzzle surrounding Severine’s death, long-buried secrets come to light that threaten their friendships, and possibly their very lives.  This sounded like it was exactly the type of book I love, and one review suggested it was perfect for fans of Fiona Barton and Ruth Ware.  It started out really well, but then I found it became too repetitive and mired in self-absorption.  Perhaps it would have been a better novel if it were not restricted to Kate’s point of view only, or if Elliott offered more in the way of details about the week so long ago that was the start of all of this mystery.  As it is, this book reminded me more of Ruth Ware and less of Fiona Barton - in Barton’s books, the story actually moves along, whereas Ware’s books tend to stay mired in one character’s thoughts and are repetitive (especially her latest book, The Lying Game).  This is Elliott’s debut novel, and I can see that she has talent, but I hope she takes the time in her next book to develop her own voice and storytelling technique - there are too many books out there already just like this one.    

Then yesterday I needed to grab something to read while I went to a walk-in clinic, as my symptoms were getting worse and I wanted to make sure I didn’t need further treatment (no antibiotics needed - just fluids and bedrest… and extra kitty cuddles *sigh*), so I picked up my favourite mystery novel from childhood, Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan, and read it all yesterday.  I loved this novel as a child and I still love it - it is exactly the type of book I still read today, a bit of a combination of Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby.  I wrote a post about this in April 2015, and because I’ve been sick, I’m just going to copy and paste that post here:
“This novel, originally published in 1976, tells the story of Rachel, a 15-year old girl living with her family in Albuquerque, whose family learns of the recent death of Rachel's aunt and uncle, along with the young woman they hired to help out around the house.  Her parents immediately leave for the small house built in the Ozarks to bring back their niece, 17-year-old Julia.  Rachel, who has two brothers, one older and one younger, is not entirely thrilled at the idea of suddenly having a ready-made big sister, but she does her best to be welcoming when her parents return with Julia.  Immediately, Rachel senses something is not right about her.  Perhaps it’s those haunting, haunted eyes, or her strange accent and way of speaking, when she speaks at all, perhaps it’s the fact that Rachel’s gentle, loving dog, Trickle, dislikes Julia the instant he encounters her… but no one will believe Rachel, even when strange things begin to happen to her family and her neighbours.  Could Julia really be a witch?  And how is Rachel the only one to recognize her for what she is?
Duncan revised and updated her novels to make them more relevant and accessible for readers today, including references to cell phones and computers, and in this updated edition of Summer of Fear, she even made reference to Harry Potter books!  I so enjoyed reading this book again - it was just the right book for a day when I felt pretty crappy.
And I finished listening to an audiobook last week that was also really good, a Young Adult novel by Heather Brewer, The Cemetery Boys.  The book opens with Stephen and his dad moving back to Spencer, population 814, a move that resulted from his dad losing his job and spending all their savings on Stephen’s mom’s hospital bills.  They have moved in with Stephen’s grandmother, who only speaks to them when she has more chores for them to do, a long list which she demands daily.  This town seems stuck in time, and Stephen resigns himself to a summer in hell until he meets sexy punk girl Cara, her mysterious twin brother Devon, and his loyal group of friends.  When he starts hanging out with them, he begins to uncover unsavoury details about the town’s past, including vague references to something called “the winged ones”, which are  believed to have the ability to alleviate “the bad times” - all they require is a sacrifice.  Can Stephen stay loyal to his friends, save the girl he loves, and save himself, before it is too late? This darkly funny coming-of-age horror brought to mind that ‘80s film “The Lost Boys”, with Devon as the Kiefer Sutherland character, white-blond hair and all.  When I started listening to this book, it didn’t immediately grab me, but I’m so glad I stuck with it.  This author, who has written many YA vampire novels, has the speech pattern, the tone and the atmosphere down pat.  It was funny and spooky and downright creepy.  In terms of content and language, this book is unfortunately too mature for my school libraries, but I’m now interested in trying out one of her other books, maybe the first in the “Chronicles of Vladimir Tod” series, which I have in my YA collection.

Whew!  That was longer than I expected - I must be feeling a bit better!  Happy Monday!
Bye for now…

Sunday 4 February 2018

Tea and book club highlights on a snowy morning...

It’s a winter wonderland outside this morning, with plenty of the white stuff to make everything look pure and unmarred... at least for a little while.

I had a Volunteer book club meeting yesterday to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi.  I’m sure I selected this book for this month because “Freedom to Read” week ( is always in February, and while I was reading it last week, I was using my “Banned Books” mug in honour of this.  “Freedom to Read” week is actually Feb 26-March 3 this year, so I’m a bit early, but this book confirmed my decision to reread Lolita later in the month in honour of that week.  Reading Lolita in Tehran recounts the experiences of Nafisi, an Iranian Literature professor who returned to Tehran in the late 1970s after 17 years spent in Europe and the US.  She had wonderful memories of Iran as a beautiful country with a progressive culture, but when she returned, just shortly after the Iranian Revolution, she found her country in tatters, its culture slowly disintegrating and the laws reverting back to those of nearly 70 years before.  She returned for her first post as a professor at the University of Tehran, but over the years, it became harder and harder for her to teach, first to teach the books she wanted to teach, then for her to teach at all, particularly as she refused to start wearing the veil that was becoming mandatory for women to wear when out in public.  After being dismissed from her position in the mid-1990’s, she began a secret book discussion group with some of her former students, mostly women but also one or two of their husbands, who met every Thursday at her home.  There they discussed works that were considered controversial, such as Lolita, books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and even Jane Austen, trying to understand these novels from a modern Iranian perspective.  This was the first time I can recall reading a book about books, and it was at times a bit difficult to plow through yet another analysis of Humbert Humbert’s dysfunctional and misogynistic role in Lolita or the relationships between Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom, Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson and the ever-longing of Jay Gatsby.  And I’m no historian, so I found it very difficult to follow the politics surrounding the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s and later the Iran-Iraq war, but Nafisi managed to bring it all back to how this upheaval affected her role as a professor of literature and as a woman, as well as the experiences of her students during those years of uncertainty.  She was never graphic, but she made clear the situations these young women found themselves in on a regular basis.  This was all very interesting, but the thing that kept me riveted to the book was the beauty of her writing.  She captured every detail so exquisitely, both the anguish and frustration she felt towards the new political regime, and the delight she was able to take in the smallest of experiences.  I didn’t have a chance to finish it before the meeting, but I got partway into the last section, “Austen”, so I felt fairly prepared.  Only three others came out, and only one of them read the book, well, most of the book - she was just a little behind me.  As you might expect, we didn’t spend much time discussing the book, but one of my members who had only read the first few pages decided to read Lolita.  No one else had read that, so we decided that we’d put it on the list for next year in February, and someone suggested that we should make it a tradition that in February we always read a banned or challenged book.  I think everyone will make a point of reading this, as the two of us who had nearly finished it spoke so highly of it.  All in all, it was a good meeting, even if it wasn’t all about the book!

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

Bye for now...