Sunday 29 April 2018

Here comes the sun...

Yesterday it was back to winter, with coats and gloves and scarves (thankfully no snow!).  But today the sun is out, the breeze is blowing, and it looks like it will be a fairly nice day, although not warm enough yet this morning to open the windows.  My steaming cup of chai and delicious Date Bar are sitting on the table in front of me as I think about how I will comment on the book I read last week.
I got a copy of the bestselling novel The Woman in the Window by A J Finn from the big library conference I went to at the end of January, met the author briefly and even got it signed!  This was by far the biggest draw in terms of author signings at the conference, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time, although I’m always wary of “bestsellers”, which usually turn out to be more Canadian Tire books than Lee Valley ones. This book was no exception.  Child psychologist Anna Fox lives alone in a large house in New York City. For the past nine months, she has suffered from agoraphobia following a traumatic event in her life, and she has been unable to leave her house at all. Her estranged husband and daughter speak with her daily, and she has her necessities delivered to her door on a regular basis, but when she’s not playing online chess or participating in the Agora, an online support group for agoraphobics, she passes her time watching her neighbours, often using her camera’s zoom lens for better access.  She also watches alot of classic movies, mainly noir films of the black-and-white variety, and consumes plenty of alcohol while juggling a wide array of pharmaceuticals in whatever dosage she feels she needs on any given day.  When she witnesses a murder in the Russell house across the park, she notifies the police, but they are unable to find any trace of such an event. But despite the booze and drugs, Anna is sure of what she saw, so she goes about investigating as best she can while confined to her home.  As she gets drawn further and further into the Russell family drama, she must face her own demons and work fast to discover the truth while also keeping herself safe from harm. OK, I know that the bestseller trend these days is psychological thrillers where the narrator can be described as “unreliable”, and I’ve read a number of them, although not the most popular ones like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, and this one did not strike me as particularly original.  It was a retelling of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and, page after page, I was amazed that Anna was able to function at all, considering the amount of alcohol and pills she was consuming.  And the language was so over-the-top that it grated on my nerves. When she receives a surprise email, “the air around me is suddenly thin… the mouse bulges against my palm”.  When she tips the glass of wine to her lips (one of many!), she can “feel the flood of wine rushing down my throat, the fizz in my veins.” Trust me, it’s like this throughout the book, on every page.  The story itself is OK, not original but still mildly interesting, but the over-the-top language and unbelievable main character, as well as the predictability of it all, made this a less-than-satisfying read.  Having said that, it is a bestseller, so don’t take my word for it.  But if I were to recommend this type of novel, my favourites are still The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison, The Widow by Fiona Barton, Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson, and maybe even A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell.  Oh, and I think I can add We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver onto this list, although it’s in a bit of a different category.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the warm-ish weather!
Bye for now…

Sunday 22 April 2018

Birthday post on a Spring morning...

WOW, what a difference a week makes here in Southern Ontario!  Last weekend it was icy and stormy, and this weekend the sun is out, the birds are singing, and the temperatures are in the double-digits!  I’ve been writing Julie’s Reading Corner for seven years this weekend, and in celebration of this, I was going to treat myself to a slice of cake when I met a friend yesterday for a hot beverage, but nothing in the dessert display counter at the café really caught my fancy, so I’ll have to be satisfied with my yummy Date Bar and, of course, my steaming cup of chai.

I wish I had a better book to write about for this birthday post, but unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with the novel I read last week, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer.  I have listened to one of her books in audio format a couple of years ago, The Uncoupling, that I really enjoyed, but when I tried another of her books a bit after that, I couldn’t get into it and returned it to the library.  This one was a bit more engaging and I finished reading it, but it was underwhelming, to say the least. This novel tells the story of four characters: Greer, a smart, shy, quiet young woman who hopes to find a path for her life and make a difference; Cory, Greer’s handsome high school sweetheart and overachiever; Zee, outspoken and determined to fight for her rights, whatever those might be; and Faith Frank, a sixty-something woman who has been a mover and a shaker in the women’s movement for decades.  When she meets Faith at a college presentation Zee drags her to after an incident on campus, Greer’s life heads off in a new direction. Where this will take her, though, remains to be discovered. Meanwhile, Cory’s life seems to be following a prescribed path… until it veers off-course due to unforeseen circumstances that force him to reconsider all that he thought he wanted. Zee, too, is sent off in various directions until she finds her calling. And after years of dedication to a failing feminist magazine, Faith must find a way to continue to inspire people to make a difference, even as she must face her own diminishing role in this movement.  I don’t normally read what I refer to as “women’s books”, novels where women’s issues are at the heart of the story. This is not to be confused with “chick lit” (I hate that term!), which I usually consider to offer a lighter and more humourous treatment of mainly dating and relationships, not so much other women’s issues. And I think I really want to love Meg Wolitzer’s novels, because she can be so insightful and her sentences can often flow off the page. But in the end, I found this book to be disappointing, mainly in its predictability. For all the time that is spent exploring each character’s backstory, often in the middle of another present-day interaction with another character, which I found confusing, I didn’t feel that there was a whole lot of growth or discovery or understanding for these characters from the beginning of the novel to the end, an ending which I felt was rushed and conveniently (though not believably) tied up all the loose ends.  And I didn’t enjoy being drawn into the lives of mostly female characters (Cory’s life hardly seemed realistic). I guess I should have known better than to read this book, since I knew it was a “women’s book”, but sometimes such books surprise me, for example The Uncoupling, and Liane Moriarty’s novels, which I always enjoy.  Anyway, it’s a bestseller, so I don’t want to suggest that it is not a good book, just that it was not a good book for me.
I managed to finish two audiobooks in the past couple of weeks that I enjoyed, both by David Rosenfelt.  The first was Don’t Tell a Soul, about a man who is drawn into an international conspiracy after his wife is murdered, and Unleashed, one of the books in the “Andy Carpenter” series, where Andy joins the investigation when one of his friends is accused of murder, a death that may be part of a much larger assassination plot.  I’ve listened to these books before, but they are reliable go-to audiobooks if I need something light and entertaining, especially if I’ve just listened to a lengthy, intense audiobook (Rosenfelt’s books are generally short).  So I would recommend these books, and it’s not really necessary to start at the beginning and read or listen to them in order.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures!

Bye for now....

Sunday 15 April 2018

Post rerun on an icy morning...

It’s been an icy, windy, stormy weekend, and this morning is no exception.  Unfortunately, although I spent most of the day yesterday inside, sheltered from the treacherous weather conditions, I got very little reading done.  I’m hoping to do better today, as it looks like the weather will not be improving at all until tomorrow. But armed with a steaming cup of chai, a slice of freshly baked Date Bread and a good book, I’m all set!

I was struggling to find something to read last week after finishing the book club book, so I picked up my favourite novel of all time, The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck.  Every year around this time I have the urge to reread this book, as the first scene takes place on Good Friday.  I last read this book in April, 2016, and rather than spend time writing a new post, I thought I would just repost what I wrote earlier, with a few updates, so if you feel like you’ve read this before, you probably have!  This novel tells the story of Ethan Allen Hawley, descendant of a proud New England family whose family once owned half of New Baytown but whose father, through bad advice and bad choices, lost everything, with the result that Ethan is now a clerk in a grocery store his family once owned.  The store is now owned by Alfio Marullo, a man who came from Sicily decades earlier, but is still considered a “foreigner”. When one unusual occurrence is followed by another and yet another in rapid succession, Ethan is compelled to change himself, to dare himself to become what he thinks others want him to be, regardless of his innate honesty and belief in personal truth and accountability.  It is the picture of small-town life, and the exploration of the dynamics that work behind the facades of even the most benign-looking settings and groups. Ethan speaks directly to the reader, and we are drawn into the journey, the exploration, the insidious corruption that steals up on him and sends him spiraling downward, so that there is no specific point at which we can say, “Here is where he went wrong, here is the point at which he betrayed himself and finally achieved the status he thought he wanted, but at what cost?”  It is difficult to describe this book, because not much actually happens. It deals more with the deterioration of one man’s soul to fulfill the expectations others have of him.  It is a cautionary tale that reminds us to be careful what we wish for because we just might get it, and that sometimes the treasure we seek is already all around us. For juvenile fiction, we would call this a “coming-of-age” novel, where we would refer to the “loss of innocence” of the main character.  I don’t know if there are comparable terms that refer to adult literature, since loss of innocence is generally associated with youth, and surely Ethan has already come of age by the time this story begins. It's a bit like a Catcher in the Rye for adults - the reader wants him to hold on to the golden ring and not become corrupted, just as Holden Caulfield wants Phoebe to retain her childhood innocence.  I can’t praise this book enough, and enjoyed it just as much this time around as I have in the past.
That's all for today. Stay warm and keep reading! And don’t forget that next weekend is the CFUW Annual Used Book Sale, which is a treat for anyone who loves books:

Bye for now…

Sunday 8 April 2018

Book club hilights on a chilly morning...

It certainly feels like we’re getting a final blast of winter this weekend.  It’s windy and overcast, with a dusting of snow and a bite in the air, so my steaming cup of chai is a welcome treat to keep me warm this morning.
My volunteer book club met yesterday, and it was a full house.  Six members came out, which is everyone except one lady who spends every winter in Mexico.  I thought perhaps it was the fact that they all loved the book choice, The Imposter Bride by Canadian novelist Nancy Richler, that had them all attending, but alas, I found out soon enough that not everyone loved it.  This novel tells the story of Lily Azerov, a young woman who, shortly after WWII, makes her way from Poland to Montreal via Tel Aviv to marry a man she has never met.  Upon seeing her at the train station, Sol decides he does not want to marry her and leaves her there, waiting for him to arrive. She ends up marrying Sol’s brother, Nathan, and they seem to have a happy beginning.  But Lily is not who she says she is, and when she abandons her baby Ruth to the care of the family when she is just three months old, no one is really surprised. But who is the woman who calls herself Lily and why did she come to Montreal, only to leave so soon after beginning a new life with Nathan?  That is what the book jacket suggests this novel is about, but the book group all agreed that this was misleading. The first thing someone said about this book is that it left her with more questions than answers, and she felt that it was too difficult to keep track of so many characters and families. Another member thought that the book lacked an authentic Montreal “feel”; that even though it was set there and Richler mentions a few specific places in Montreal, the novel could have been set anywhere.  We talked about this and decided that “place” wasn’t nearly as important in this novel as “time period”. Another member felt just “lukewarm” about the book overall. She thought it was too slow, that not much happened until the end, when when it all came together too quickly. We all agreed that we wanted to get to know Lily better, as well as many of the other characters; there were so many interesting storylines in this book that could have been developed into their own novels, such as Sol and Elka (and Ida Pearl),  Yanna, Andre and Lily, and Reuben and Ruth. In short, this novel had alot of potential. A number of people loved the book (one member used the word “spectacular” to describe it), and felt that the characters and storylines were realistic. We discussed how we can never really know others, even those we believe we know well. One member suggested that the entire community in the novel was like a fishbowl, and Lily realized she couldn’t live in it, but she couldn’t take her daughter away with her, either. We discussed Judaism, and realized how little we know about the Jewish experience.  This led to discussion about the refugee experience, and how we will never know what we might be willing to do in order to survive. I loved the book, and I think after the discussion, some of the people who were on the fence about it where swayed somewhat towards appreciating the novel as a whole. It was a confusing read for sure, with so many characters and details, so if you want to read it, I would recommend taking some notes.
And speaking of notes, here's just a quick one:  the annual CFUW Book Sale is coming up in a couple of weeks, so if you are in the market for used books, this is the place to go!  Check out their site for more info:
That’s all for today.  Bundle up and get outside!
Bye for now…