Sunday 27 May 2018

Short post on a hot weekend...

The summer weather has definitely arrived and I’m not thrilled about it.  I know, I know, I’m in the minority, but this weather drains me and zaps my energy.  However, it will be this way for the next few months, so I will do my best to enjoy it.  Too bad it makes my hot cup of chai less appealing!
After a couple of disappointing books, I wanted something I would really enjoy reading this past week, so I went to my stash of early Minette Walters psychological mysteries and chose one whose story I didn’t really recall, The Echo.  Once I started reading it, though, it came back to me in bits and pieces, and unfortunately it’s not one of my favourites.  It begins with a homeless man being found dead in a wealthy woman’s garage. Billy Blake died of starvation beside Amanda Powell’s food-filled freezer, and she takes an unusual interest in this man’s life story, paying for his cremation and enlisting a local journalist, Michael Deacon, to uncover Billy’s true identity and details about his life.  She claims she feels somehow “responsible” for his death, and for the plight of the homeless in general. Deacon doesn’t believe her, suspecting instead that she asked him to help because she thinks Billy could be her estranged husband, James, who disappeared five years earlier after being accused of defrauding his employers, a London banking institution, of £10 million, and whom she has been accused of murdering.  As Deacons investigations lead him into the world of the homeless and to enlist the help of others at his newspaper, he forms deep and lasting connections where he least expects them and tries to come to terms with relationships within his own family. This book is well-written, in customary Walters’ style; it is complex and engaging, and the characters are interesting, both as individuals and as part of the network of characters that make up the story.  But what I really enjoy about Walters’ books is the psychological exploration of a main character who has committed a horrible crime. Like an onion, Walters peels away layer after layer of the character’s life experiences until we, the reader, come to understand his or her motives, and while at the beginning of the novel we are set to condemn him or her, we are by the end of the novel, while not applauding, hoping for leniency from the courts. This book lacks this characteristic, in that it is told from the point of view of the journalist, and no heinous crime has actually been committed.  It also feels quite dated - it was written in the late ‘90s, but there is virtually no mention of technology, despite the main character being a journalist, who you would expect would want to stay connected and to be using the latest communication devices. Anyway, I won’t have a chance to finish it today, as I have to start my book club book for next Saturday, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which is 400+ pages, and I won’t have a chance to read on Monday night because my Friends’ book group is getting together to discuss The Perfect Nanny (it’s amazing how much difference a single missed night of reading can make!).
That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…

Sunday 20 May 2018

Another disappointing book on a long weekend...

I’m happy to have an extra day off this weekend.  Perhaps I will use the extra time to carefully choose a book that will be engaging and satisfying, rather than disappointing.  Thank goodness my cup of chai and delicious Date Bar are never a disappointment!
Yesterday I finished reading the selection for my next Friends Book Club meeting, which will be taking place in a week.  We will be discussing The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, a novel that got many rave reviews and won France’s most prestigious literary prize in 2016.  This novel tells the story of Myriam and Paul Massé, parents to two young children, Mila and Adam. When Myriam decides to go back to work, they search high and low for a nanny to care for their children, and finally come across Louise, a slight, blond, middle-aged woman with a glowing reference from a friend.  She appears to be a miracle-worker, able to organize the chaotic apartment, pull off fabulous children’s parties, whip up delicious dinners, stay late, arrive early, and yet remain in the shadows; in short, she seems to be the perfect nanny. But when she becomes obsessed with the children and the family, and her fear of being made redundant takes over, her hold on reality begins to slip, and her unstable past catches up with her until she snaps and murders both children.  (I didn’t just give anything away - this is revealed in the very first paragraph.) The novel explores the growing interdependence between Louise and the Massé family, and Louise’s eventual mental breakdown. I love these kinds of books! The kind where the psyche of the main character is dissected and explored to discover how they transformed from seemingly “normal” individuals to people who commit heinous crimes (The Woman Upstairs, The Scold’s Bridle, even We Need to Talk About Kevin, to name just a few).  And I found the first few chapters to be really gripping, leading me to believe that I was in for a great read.  Alas, I lost interest about a third of the way into this brief novel, for a number of reasons. I thought the characters were not very credible.  I felt that the novel lacked plot or storyline, and I found the timeline to be quite confusing. I thought the language was over-the-top, and the descriptions of events and things was excessive.  And I wondered how Myriam could possibly continue to leave her very young children in the care of Louise after she begins to suspect the nanny’s obsession with them, particularly after a very gruesome scene during which Louise addresses what she perceives as Myriam’s wastefulness.  But what do I know? I clearly have a totally different opinion of this book than the many professional reviewers out there, as well as the French literary judges! I wonder if this novel did not translate well from the original French into English, but I can’t believe that it could make this much of a difference. It just makes me wonder how I could have such a completely different view of this book than the reviewers, to the point where it makes me wonder if we've even read the same book!  Anyway, it’s an award-winner, and it’s short, so read it if you are interested. I’m so curious to hear what my other book club members say about this book.
That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the day!
Bye for now…

Sunday 13 May 2018

Mothers and motherhood on a bright Sunday morning..

It’s a gorgeous spring morning, a bit cool but sunny and bright, with the birds singing and a slight breeze ruffling the leaves; in short, it’s a perfect day to celebrate Mother’s Day.  
I am just finishing Liane Moriarty’s book Truly, Madly, Guiltily, a book I’ve previously tried to read when I took out a library copy but never finished because it just wasn’t grabbing me.  This time I have my own copy, which I purchased at the big used book sale I went to in April, and I’m actually sticking with it to the very end (I’ll finish it today).  I only realized yesterday how appropriate it is for Mother’s Day, as it’s a book that explores mothers and motherhood, what it means to be a “good mother”, and whether women are destined to become like their own mothers as they reach a certain age.  It also looks at family and friendship, assumptions and misconceptions, and the ways in which our past affects who we have become. Here’s what I said about the book in a previous post from September 2016: “If you recall, I’ve loved the last few books by this author, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, and this novel started out much the same as the others… some event has occurred that has significantly affected the relationships of the characters in the book, but this event is kept from the reader, meted out in alternating chapters, a bit of a “before and after” strategy.  Three couples are featured prominently in this storyline: mousy accountant Erika and her equally "male-version mousy" husband Oliver are friends with successful cellist Clementine and her attractive husband Sam, and Oliver’s and Erika’s neighbours, larger-than-life Vid and his stunningly gorgeous wife Tiffany, become involved with the group after an impromptu invitation to a Sunday afternoon BBQ.  We the reader know something significant happened at the BBQ, but in customary fashion, Moriarty strings us along with clues and tidbits, while also letting us in on what is happening at the present time. I have loved this in previous books, and have marveled at how well she is able to keep everything straight, keeping us in suspense while revealing just enough information to keep us interested. But this book just was not doing anything for me, for a couple of reasons:  Erika in this book was too much like Jane in Big Little Lies, both in looks and in character. And I felt that the storyline was also too similar to both previous titles.” I still feel this way about the book, that it is a rehashing of previous storylines, and even though I know I didn’t finish this book when I last started it, I keep thinking that it is all so very familiar that surely I must have read it before. Still, as I suggested in my previous post, if you had never read any other novels by this bestselling Australian author, you may really enjoy this book, because it is clever and insightful, but not very original for her.  I think I can get through it this time because I haven’t read anything by her in quite a while so I’ve forgotten the details of the storylines from her earlier books. While this book is keeping me interested enough to finish it and find out exactly what happened, I would highly recommend The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies to any book club or for any reader who enjoys domestic fiction that manages to explore serious topics while still being darkly funny.  
That’s all for today.  Happy Mother’s Day!
Bye for now…

Sunday 6 May 2018

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

It’s definitely felt like spring these past few days, with warmer, sometimes tempestuous, weather.  This morning is fairly calm and sunny, and the birds are singing up a storm, but I think we’re expecting some more rain this afternoon. I’ve got a steaming cup of chai (it’s never too warm for tea!) and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread on the table in front of me as I write this post, a wonderful Sunday morning ritual.
My volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.  This novel tells the parallel stories of Molly and Vivian, two women who seem to be polar opposites:  Molly is a rebellious seventeen-year-old who has been through a number of foster homes in the past nine years, and her current home is not much better than the others.  Vivian is a ninety-one-year-old widow who seems to have lived a rich and full life with her husband until his death, and now lives a quiet, if somewhat reclusive, existence.  After an incident at the public library, Molly is forced to put in fifty hours of community service, and Vivian’s housekeeper suggests that she spend that time cleaning out Vivian’s attic. Cleaning out a rich lady’s attic is not exactly an exciting prospect, but she reluctantly agrees. What she finds, however, is anything but boring. Instead she discovers that, as an Irish immigrant, Vivian was part of the thousands of orphan children who, between the 1850s and the 1920s, were gathered up and sent on trains to various towns and cities in the hopes that they would be placed in loving homes, but the reality for many was anything but loving; they were often placed in abusive environments and made to work on farms or in households and were considered little more than cheap labour.  Through their time together, Molly and Vivian discover that they are, in fact, very much alike, and they form a bond that may be stronger than any family connection. I knew nothing about this book, but thankfully it was a success - everyone seemed to love it! None of us knew anything about this train, and we thought of other instances in history where children were taken from homes and relocated. One member mentioned residential schools, and another mentioned Dr Barnardo’s Home Children. We talked about the idea of “family”, and how it applied to the various characters in the novel.  We talked about the plot twist near the end of the book, and what it meant to the character who made the decision. One member said that the novel was an emotional roller coaster: something positive happened, followed by something negative, then positive, then negative, and so on, and so on… Another member said she would have been happy if the story went on for another hundred pages, she enjoyed the book so much. I mentioned that I wished there was more of Molly’s story, but the others suggested that it was Vivian’s story, not Molly’s. One member pointed out that Vivian’s chapters are written in the first person, while Molly’s are in the third person, which supports this idea, and was something I hadn’t noticed.  All in all, it was an awesome discussion, and I would recommend this novel if you are looking for a good book club selection.
Time to get outside before the rain!  
Bye for now…